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Kerry at Vatican as part of Vatican peace initiatives for Syria

VATICAN (SE): The secretary of state from the United States of America (US), John Kerry, met with his counterpart from the Vatican, Archbishop Pietro Parolin, at the Vatican on January 13 to discuss foreign policy, especially relating to peace in the Middle East and Syria in particular, the Vatican Information Service reported.

The two gave particular attention to preparations that are underway for the Geneva II Middle East Peace Conference and the ongoing negotiations between Israel and Palestine.

Their tête a tête lasted an hour and forty minutes. Archbishop Dominique Mamberti, the secretary for Relations with States from the Vatican, and Kenneth Hackett, the US ambassador to the Holy See sat in on the meeting.

Their meeting is part of extensive preparations being made for the Geneva Conference and ran on the same day the Pontifical Academy for Sciences sponsored a workshop on the civil war in Syria in which an appeal was made for the commencement of reconstruction and dialogue among the various stakeholders in the violence.

The one-day meeting was organised by Jean-Louis Cardinal Tauran, the president of the Pontifical Council for Justice and Peace.

A communiqué released on January 14 expressed the hope that “the people of Syria, the region and the world will conceive of a new beginning, to put an end to the violence that has claimed over 130,000 lives and left a beautiful country in ruin and chaos.”

International experts who participated in the workshop said they believe the first step is a ceasefire. All the combatants must lay down their arms; all foreign powers must adopt immediate measures to stop the flow of arms and their financing,” the communiqué reads.

The Holy See is committing itself to supporting all religious faiths and communities in Syria, to reach new understanding and a meaningful restoration of trust, after years of violence between communities.

In the wake of the conference, Damascus-based Melkite Greek Catholic Patriarch Gregorios III made an impassioned appeal for a World Day of Prayer for Peace in Syria at the conference.

He called on bishops, all children, priests, monks, sisters and all people of good will, members of youth movements and confraternities, as well as families to join together on one chosen day to pray especially in his homeland of Syria.

“Let there be a global peace campaign for peace in Syria, the Holy Land, the Arab world and the whole world,” he said on January 16.

Aid to the Church in Need reported that the patriarch said, “We implore God to hear our prayers, respond to our cries of distress and the suffering of victims, and grant us the gift of peace.”

The Geneva II Conference, scheduled to be held in Montreux, Switzerland, was originally planned to be held in May last year, but no religious leaders have been invited.

The Greek patriarch of Damascus said in a prayer for the conference that he is begging God to inspire the countries and their representatives who are about to meet to secure a better future for Syrians, as he knows that they hold the power to make peace within their hands.

He also echoed the call of the Vatican conference for a halt to the influx of arms into the country.

In an official statement at the end of the conference, the Vatican study group said, “Political transformation is needed. It is not a precondition for ending violence; rather it will accompany the cessation of violence and the rebuilding of trust.”

The statement was addressed to Pope Francis and is intended to help inform participants at the Geneva II gathering.

The study group recommends an immediate ceasefire and an end to the funding and supply of weapons by foreign countries on all sides of the conflict, CNS reports.

The group says it believes that once a greater trust is built, “New political forms in Syria are needed to ensure representation, participation, reform and the voice of security of all social groups.”

The statement stressed that a ceasefire needs to be achieved and rebuilding be commenced prior to addressing political and social questions.

Former Egyptian vice president, Mahomed El Baradei; and Jeffery Sachs, from the US; gave perspectives on the issue from their nationalist points of view.

In addition, over 20 ambassadors to the Vatican and Catholic and Russian Orthodox leaders were present as observers.

Archbishop Silvano Tomasi, the Vatican permanent observer to the United Nations, commented after the meeting that people of all religions must play a role in repairing communities and social fabric.

Archbishop Tomasi also said that he believes that rebuilding trust and cooperation between Iran and other nations, in addition to a success in the interim agreement over its nuclear programme would help provide a vital foundation for a lasting peace in Syria.

He also stressed that a breakthrough in the stalemated peace talks between Israel and Palestine would provide a boost.

The civil war in Syria has left over 100,000 people dead and 605 million displaced inside their own country, in addition to the nearly 2.5 million who have fled the country.


Meanwhile, at their private meeting, Kerry and Archbishop Parolin also looked at the situation in Africa, especially South Sudan, and matters of special interest to the US Conference of Catholic Bishops, such as healthcare reform.

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