Syrian President Bashar Assad sends Pope Francis a private message
Marks first time Assad had contacted Pope Francis directly; contents of message not divulged
Three years after a disastrous civil war has all but totally destroyed and destabilized his nation, Syrian President Bashar Assad has sent Pope Francis a private message. The Vatican confirmed the delivery of the message, but did not disclose its contents.
It was the first known time Assad has sent the pontiff a message since the start of Syria's civil war in 2011.
Vatican sources said the message likely included the Syrian government's position ahead of peace talks due to start on January 22 under U.N. auspices in Geneva. The Vatican has a representative to U.N. organizations in Geneva, as it also has permanent observer status at the U.N.
"The delegation brought a message from President Assad for the Holy Father and illustrated the position of the Syrian government," a statement said. In addition, the Vatican said a delegation headed by Joseph Sweid, a Syrian minister of state, held talks in the Vatican with the pope's secretary of state, Archbishop Pietro Parolin and his foreign minister, Archbishop Dominique Mamberti.
The civil war in Syria has pitted anti-government forces against Assad's military. The number of Syrian refugees fleeing into neighboring countries threatens to destabilize the region. More than 100,000 people have died as a result of the conflict as far away as March of 2011.
The Vatican is also seeking information on the fate of Father Paolo Dall'Oglio, a Jesuit priest who supported the rebels and disappeared in July in eastern Syria.
Pope Francis has made great efforts to make the war in Syria foremost in the world's collective consciousness.
He led a worldwide day of prayer for peace in the country last September and sent a letter to Russian President Vladimir Putin, who was hosting the G20 summit, telling world powers that any military solution in Syria would be a "futile pursuit."
The Russian president was opposed to U.S. President Barack Obama's plan to use air strikes to punish Assad for a chemical weapons attack which the West blamed on the Syrian government. Assad's government denied it was responsible and the air strikes never took place following Syria's agreement to dismantle it chemical weapons.
© 2014 - Distributed by THE NEWS CONSORTIUM
Pope Francis Prayer Intentions for March 2014
Respect for Women: That all cultures may respect the rights and dignity of women.
Vocations: That many young people may accept the Lordís invitation to consecrate their lives to proclaiming the Gospel.
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