VATICAN CITY — After a week of heavy bombardment near Damascus left hundreds of civilians dead, Pope Francis has made an appeal for global leaders to rally in ending the siege, allowing civilians to evacuate and humanitarian aid to get in.
“In these days, my thought is often turned to the beloved and martyred Syria, where the war has exploded again, especially in Eastern Ghouta,” the Pope said Feb. 25, noting that this month marks one of the most violent since the Syrian conflict erupted seven years ago.
Thousands of innocent lives have been claimed by the ongoing, bloody war, with several hundred more being added just this past week, many of whom are women, children and the elderly, he said.
“Hospitals have been hit; people can’t get enough to eat. ... All of this is inhumane,” Francis said, stressing that “evil cannot be fought with another evil.”
The Pope then issued “a heartfelt appeal” for global leaders to work to stop the violence, to allow humanitarian aid, such as food and medicine into the area, and to ensure that the sick and wounded would be evacuated.
Francis’ appeal comes a week after Russian-backed Syrian forces launched a series of deadly airstrikes and artillery fire on the besieged Easter Ghouta enclave, which sits just northeast of Damascus.
Home to some 400,000 people, Eastern Ghouta is the last rebel-held area east of Damascus and has been a target of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad’s forces since 2013 in a bid to drive the rebels out.
According to the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, the fresh eruption of conflict in the area, which began Feb. 18, has so far left more than 500 civilians dead, 121 of whom are children. Aid groups also report that several hospitals in the area are now out of commission.
After three days of deliberation to come up with a cease-fire deal, the U.N. Security Counsel voted unanimously in favor of a resolution over the weekend, calling for a 30-day calm to allow residents of the suburb to evacuate and food and medicine to enter.
However, reports indicate that just hours after the deal was accepted, the Syrian government launched a new ground and air offensive in the area.
Pope Francis’ appeal, which he made during his Angelus address for the Second Sunday of Lent, asked pilgrims gathered in St. Peter’s Square to join him in praying that his plea would be answered “without delay.” He then led pilgrims in a moment of silence before reciting a Hail Mary.
In his address, he focused on the transfiguration of Jesus in the day’s Gospel reading from Mark, saying the announcement that he would be rejected, put to death and would then rise on the third day “put Peter and the group of the disciples into crisis,” since they had been expecting a powerful Messiah who would rule the nations.
However, instead, Jesus presents himself “as a humble and meek servant of God and of men,” who was to give his life in sacrifice through persecution, suffering and a violent death.
The Transfiguration, Francis said, ultimately helps the disciples to face the passion of Christ in a positive way, “without being overwhelmed” by it. It also helps both the disciples and us to understand that while Jesus’ passion is “a mystery of suffering,” it’s above all “a gift of infinite love on the part of Jesus.”
“The event of Jesus who transfigures himself on the mountain also helps us to better understand his resurrection,” the Pope said, explaining that if the Transfiguration and God’s declaration that “this is my beloved Son” had not happened before Jesus’ passion, neither this nor Jesus’ rising in the Paschal Mystery would be easily understood.
In order to understand these events, he said, “it’s necessary to know in advance that he who suffers and who is glorified is not only a man, but the Son of God, who with his love faithful to death has saved us.”
Francis said that it’s important, especially during Lent, to go up the mountain with Jesus and be with him and listen to his voice, allowing oneself to be transformed by the Holy Spirit.
“It’s the experience of contemplation and prayer, of living not in avoidance of daily struggles, but of enjoying familiarity with God, in order to take up with renewed vigor the tiring path of the cross, which leads us to the Resurrection.”