The Patriarch of Antioch has called for prayers “in every home in Syria” and around the world for a successful international peace conference in Switzerland beginning today, Jan. 22.
“God of peace, grant peace to our country,” Patriarch Gregorios III of Antioch, head of the Melkite Greek Catholic Church, said in a Jan. 14 statement, provided to the Charity Aid to the Church in Need. “Let there be a global prayer campaign for peace in Syria, the Holy Land, the Arab world and the whole world!”
The patriarch, who is also the Melkite archbishop of Damascus, called on everyone to join him in praying for “the cessation of all acts of violence, destruction and war.”
“Jesus our Lord is Prince of peace,” he said. “We implore him to hear our prayers, respond to our cries of distress and the suffering of the victims, and grant us the great gift of peace!”
The “Geneva II” conference aims at a political settlement to the Syrian civil war, providing for a transitional government in the country which has been mired in conflict since March, 2011. The conference includes representatives of both the Bashar al-Assad government and opposition groups, as well as foreign diplomats.
Patriarch Gregorios prayed in his statement that Christ will inspire countries and their representatives “with the wherewithal for peace, security and a better future for Syrians.” He also prayed that the Virgin Mary might intercede for “the miracle of peace.”
He said he hoped that the appeal will be published in all eparchies and parishes, including those outside Syria.
He prayed for “genuine reconciliation” among Syrians to provide “a much-needed human, cordial, national, really Syrian reconciliation of faith.” He said this would be “crucial” to the success of the talks, stressing the need for “a peace that is really Syrian.”
He prayed for unity among international leaders and among Arabs, saying this is needed to “halt the influx of weapons” to armed foreign groups in Syria.
“Seeking for peace rules out sending weapons, for peace has no need of weapons.”
“This prayer is for all Syrians: praying for all those who are struggling, whatever their political orientation, inclination or adhesion!”
“We are praying for everyone, so that everyone can make ready the way for Geneva 2’s success.”
The patriarch also appealed to Syria's Muslim majority, noting that “peace is one of God's names in the Qur'an.”
Geneva II gathers representatives of the Assad regime; leaders of the Syrian National Coalition, an exiled opposition group; and foreign diplomatic leaders from the U.S., the U.K., France, Germany, Russia, and Saudi Arabia.
Iran, a close ally of the Assad regime, had been invited to participate. However, that invitation was rescinded after strong protests from the U.S. and the Syrian National Coalition following Iran's rejection of the call for a transitional government.
The Syrian National Coalition and the Assad regime seem to be at an impasse over Assad's role in any possible transitional government. A third of the coalition boycotted a vote last week over its involvement in the Geneva talks, and several other opposition groups have refused to participate.
Now in its 32nd month, the Syrian conflict has claimed the lives of at least 100,000 persons, and as many as 130,000.
The conflict began March 15, 2011, when demonstrations protesting the rule of Assad and his Ba'ath Party sprang up nationwide. In April of that year, the Syrian army began to deploy to put down the uprisings, firing on protesters.
Some 40 percent of Syria's population have fled their homes because of the civil war. There are 2.3 million Syrian refugees in nearby countries, most of them in Lebanon, Jordan, and Turkey, and an additional 6.5 million Syrians are believed to have been internally displaced by the war.