Friday, September 6, 2013

Standing With Syria

Paul, the fearless Apostle, would weep. The world’s superpower is poised to bomb the home of his beloved Damascus and Antioch, where he first encountered the risen Christ and first learned to evangelize. Unless I’m projecting, though, what would wrench his heart is the youth. Two weeks ago, UN Commissioner for Refugees, Antonio Guterres, reported that one million children now constitute half of all the refugees from Syria. Add to that two million displaced children within the country and you have what he calls the “enormous risk” of a “lost generation”: “We see the trauma, we see many that are unable to speak, that have a broken sleep, that have strange forms of behaviour. At the same time when we look at adolescence [sic] we see anger. This anger is not only bad for themselves, it’s a danger for the future of the society. For the future of the region.” Both UNHCR and UNICEF pleaded with all “parties to the conflict [to] stop targeting civilians and cease recruitment of children” (UNHCR, The UN Refugee Agency,, Aug. 23, 2013).

What will happen to the defenseless if the U.S. begins air strikes on targets that the Syrian government is now embedding within civilian populations? What will happen to the young we say we want to protect?

Myla's memorial plaque,
FSP burial chapel, Boston
Twenty-four year old Army Sgt. Myla Maravillosa was our friend and even before signing on with the military had begun her pre-entrance process with the Daughters of St. Paul. She planned to join our community once her tour of duty in Iraq was over. On Dec. 3, 2005, she wrote from Iraq to our vocation director, “The Daughters of St. Paul is my life and I’m forever grateful that God has given me that kind of gift.” Weeks later, on Christmas Eve, she was killed in action after her Humvee came under attack by rocket-propelled grenades. She was her mother’s only child.

Now we’re moving in that violent direction again.

Pending President Obama’s decision next Monday to either initiate or forego military action in Syria, Pope Francis has called all Catholics to make Sept. 7 a day of prayer and fasting for peace in Syria. He will open St. Peter’s Square for a vigil from 7:00 P.M. to midnight and has invited us to join him. He urged the Church and the world “forcefully” to “dialogue and negotiation, for the good of the entire Syrian people” and to “lay down their weapons and be let themselves be led by the desire for peace.” (

Cardinal Timothy Dolan, president of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, said today, “As our nation’s leaders contemplate military action, it is particularly appropriate and urgent that we in the United States embrace the Holy Father’s call to pray and fast on September 7 for a peaceful end to the conflict in Syria and to violent conflicts everywhere” (

The Pope invited “each person, including our fellow Christians, followers of other religions and all men of good will, to participate, in whatever way they can, in this initiative….Humanity needs to see these gestures of peace and to hear words of hope and peace! I ask all the local churches, in addition to fasting, that they gather to pray for this intention.”

In a letter to Pope Francis, the Grand Mufti of Syria, Ahmad Badreddin Hassou, spiritual leader of Sunni Isalm, expressed “profound gratitude for his spiritual attention” together with the desire to “be with the Pope the moment when the prayer will be raised to God Almighty…We will be together on September 7, to raise our plea to God.” In addition, he proposed that the Holy See “organize a spiritual summit with religious leaders in Damascus or in the Vatican: so maybe we can stop the fire of those who want to destroy the land of Abraham, Moses, Jesus, and Muhammad.” (Fides Agency,
It is easy to pave the way for air strikes on Syria, but it is difficult to end the war and the consequences of these attacks throughout the Middle East….Everywhere, in Syria and outside Syria, the faithful are praying to ward off an attack by foreign countries against Syria and in order to build peace in the whole region. We all pray that our Lord Jesus Christ enlightens the minds of the people in power, so that they act according to justice and peace, for the sake of human beings (Eustathius Matta Roham, Syro-Orthodox Metropolitan Archbishop, quoted by Fides Agency,
In this same article, a Syrian Catholic bishop commented ruefully, “The most dramatic thing has been the absence of any form of dialogue in the last three years, while anguish and despair inhabit these people.”

Down what path will our elected officials lead us? With our consent? We take pride in being a “peaceful people.” We need to look in the mirror. Does that self-perception match reality? With violence in our streets, violence in our schools, violence in our video games, TV screens and movie theaters, violence in our homes, violence in our clinics and skilled nursing facilities; with bullying in offices and on playgrounds, with verbal abuse and machismo, is it any wonder we feel tempted to ride into countries around the world with guns blazing and attempt to force them to resolve their problems on our terms and to our benefit?

And to our benefit it is—or at least of some among us. The groups that stand to profit the most from another war are industrialists and investors. Although government can ill afford the military’s price tag, a struggling economy would get a boost from vehicle, aircraft, and munitions manufacturing and computer systems development, as well as a host of supplemental “services.” It is these, not diplomacy, that finance political campaigns. 

Iraq had a thriving Christian community and culture 2,000 years old. Yes,  intervention toppled a dictator, but it left a vacuum in which those less tolerant of Christianity made believers’ lives so difficult, that now, less than ten years later, families have been displaced, the Christian voice has been effectively silenced, and that culture has been all but obliterated—as Blessed John Paul II had predicted. The Catholic hierarchy in Asian and North African countries have recently come under fire from the international community for opposing military intervention that would supposedly make their nations “safe for democracy.” When we see the Iraqi scenario repeated, we can hardly blame them. 

There are more than just two options—military strikes and “doing nothing.” Diplomacy could be considered an option, given the significant defections by the Syrian military and international outrage over the actions of Syrian leaders. A government without the support of the military will implode. Moreover, success following unilateral action by the U.S. is illusory, the fantasy of cinema and unworthy of the world’s superpower.

What can I do?
1. Fast and pray, especially on Saturday, Sept. 7, either alone, or if possible, at whatever vigils are offered on a local level in concert with the vigil in St. Peter’s Square that night.
2. Fast also from entertainment for the day to get informed. The major TV networks and their Web sites are only one source of information. Listen to the voices that are less heard and less considered by the world’s power brokers (and in spite of prevailing cultural “wisdom,” those voices include the Vatican’s); they reflect other facets of the truth. Search beyond those whose ideas naturally mesh with yours. The Web pages cited in this article are a good place to start.
3. In view of what you learn and in the light of the Gospel, re-examine your own attitude toward violence as a solution to conflict.
4. Write to elected officials to stand down. You can find your U.S. Representative and Senators at
5. If you know of a Syrian immigrant or family, even if you don’t know them well, knock on their door or leave them a note to express your prayerful solidarity, regardless of their religious affiliation. (Remember how touched the Grand Mufti was by the outreach of Pope Francis.)
6. Review your investment portfolio. Which stock or bond sources deal in armaments? Move your investments today into health care or other equally profitable funding sources.

7. Share this blog article with others.

Any other ideas? Share them with me in a comment below.
Let us ask Mary to help us to respond to violence, to conflict and to war, with the power of dialogue, reconciliation and love. She is our mother: may she help us to find peace; all of us are her children! Help us, Mary, to overcome this most difficult moment and to dedicate ourselves each day to building in every situation an authentic culture of encounter and peace. Mary, Queen of Peace, pray for us! (Pope Francis)

This is my last article in Pauline Faithways, our mission advancement (development) blog. Since I have now been assigned to working in the ongoing formation of the Pauline Cooperators—besides completing a number of writing projects and a translation—you’ll be able to find me at, the blog of the North American branch of the Association of Pauline Cooperators. I’ll write every six weeks, while others will write more often. I can continue to keep you on my e-mail list, unless, as always, you prefer to access the post yourself. Thank you for your attention, your comments (posted publicly or sent to me privately), and your financial response over the past four years. It’s been grand!


  1. I am reading into the recursive and fickle nature of politics or religion in that region. Trying to understand that for the lay person (everyone who does not have a doctorate in contemporary Syrian history) is almost beyond grasp, or even further away on ideas that we should intervene with strikes etc etc.

    Thank you for the write up and acknowledgement of this young brave woman who gave all that was asked of her.

  2. Thank you for this posting,and especially for the suggestions for taking action.

  3. dear sister thank you for the information....


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