Last weekend millions of people all over the world – Catholic, non-Catholic, agnostic or non-religious – joined Pope Francis’s call for prayer, fasting and penance for peace in Syria.
It was a stunning initiative on the part of this new Pope who has so rapidly won widespread admiration, often surprising for the way in which it seems to cut across the usual religious and secular boundaries since his election on March 13.
Pope Francis has shown himself to be an entirely different Vicar of Christ, a master of the spiritual life whose simplicity seems to bypass boundaries, disarming numerous prejudices and speaking directly to people existentially in their daily lives in ways that make them stop and think.
The Holy Father’s Saturday evening (WA time) vigil provoked an enormous and sympathetic global response.
Interestingly, the contrast between the papal response to “beloved Syria’s” suffering, as Pope Francis referred to the war-torn country, and that of the individual who is winner of the 2009 Nobel Peace Prize could not have been clearer – or starker.
President Barak Obama was awarded the Nobel Prize nine months after first winning the Presidency for his “extraordinary efforts” to strengthen international diplomacy and cooperation between peoples.
But, we might say, in light of his insistent push for a US-led military strike on Syria following the use of chemical weapons, probably by elements of the regime of President Bashar Al Assad in August, what is remarkable about his extraordinary abilities for peace is that they appear to have disappeared completely, and possibly conveniently.
At what point was the President who so rapidly scooped up a Nobel Prize for Peace illuminated by the need for military intervention in Syria in a civil war that began 29 months earlier in his Presidency? Since its commencement in March 2011 it has been widely estimated by numerous Middle-Eastern analysts, reputable news and aid agencies that at least 250,000 Syrians, almost all of them non-combatants, are likely to die by the conclusion of the conflict.
The estimates appear to be more or less on track. As of June 2013, the casualty count was believed to have passed the 100,000 mark.
Meanwhile, estimates of the number of refugees soar steadily towards astronomically tragic levels.
“Today, the UN has registered more than 1.6 million refugees and acknowledges more than 200,000 who still await registration, the Guardian newspaper reported in July.
“Now, the UN expects that the by the end of 2013 there will be 3.5 million… and that a further 1.9 million people in the region will need help as a result of Syria’s crisis.”
There is the problem of the trigger.
While President Obama insists the Assad regime sanctioned the use of the weapons there is firstly the problem of US intelligence assessments – the non-existent Weapons of Mass Destruction which became the primary excuse to invade Iraq being among the more famous of the now numerous examples of persistent US intelligence failure or the suborning of US intelligence agencies to White House political agendas.
The September 2011 11 storming of the US Embassy in Benghazi and the killing of several staff including US Ambassador Christopher Stevens is another.
This week the highly reputable German newspaper Bild am Sonntag reported President Assad has actually blocked numerous requests by elements of his own military to use chemical weapons.
The intelligence from high-level national security sources was sourced from phone calls intercepted by a German surveillance ship operated by the BND, the German intelligence service, and deployed off the Syrian coast, the newspaper said.
There is the additional problem that both sides in this fratricidal conflict are as evil as each other.
Additionally, Christians in Syria are terrified of what will happen if the Islamist forces begin winning the war.
They should know.
Throughout the Middle East a mass-exodus of Christian refugees has been occurring for years as Islamic fanatics and radicals go on a holy jihad against rival Islamic factions and Christians; the bloody assault last weekend by al-Qa’ida forces on the Christian town of Maloula located approximately 30 kilometres north-west of Damascus signals this latest special dimension to the war.
President Obama’s denial of the presence or influence of Islamist extremism in the Syrian opposition armed forces is clearly false.
We are led to wonder who of the two modern leaders – President Barak Obama or Pope Francis – is doing their best to end the carnage in Syria? We recall President Obama’s brutal war on Christianity, specifically Catholicism, at home in the US, making it mandatory for Christian employers to fund practices repugnant to their deepest beliefs such as abortion and the provision of abortifacient contraception.
Adept at exploiting domestic political correctness yet consistently wrong-footed international diplomacy, President Obama appears to be cynically misrepresenting international events to try and undo his own history of foreign affairs blunders.
When he was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize the President said he did not feel he deserved the award. Given the living hell he is set to magnify in Syria, it seems clear that on that occasion, at least, he was perfectly correct.
That he is doing it for his own image only makes it that much more shameful. Many will die for the President’s desire to be seen as a decisive leader.