Amidst the Syrian Crisis, What Role Does the Vatican Play?

On the evening of September 7, more than 100,000 Catholics convened within St. Peter's Square, responding to the call from their Holy Father to take part in a day of fasting and prayer for peace within Syria. Pope Francis decided to issue the decree to the Catholic church as well as all other peoples of faith after the growing possibility of a U.S. military strike against the Assad regime. It is true that these acts are purely symbolic, the Vatican has no way of enforcing its views as opposed to other nations. While this fact is starkly clear, does the Vatican have the ability to influence the nations of the world through diplomacy?

The Vatican has spoken out against wars in the past, both John Paul II as well as Benedict XVI stated that the war in Iraq was unjust. This approach, while obviously not changing the outcome, did prevent a complete collapse between the Eastern and Western world. Pope John Paul II stated that the Iraq war would be "a defeat for humanity". The Vatican holds the opinion that war should only be an option after every other option has been exhausted, a view that has it's roots within Christian "Just War Theory".

It was in the spirit of Just War Theory that Pope Francis wrote his letter to Russian President Vladimir Putin ahead of the G20 Economic Summit in St. Petersburg. Within the letter Francis stated that, "The leaders of the G20 cannot remain indifferent to the dramatic situation of the beloved Syrian people which has lasted far too long, and even risks bringing greater suffering to a region bitterly tested by strife and needful of peace. To the leaders present, to each and every one, I make a heartfelt appeal for them to help find ways to overcome the conflicting positions and to lay aside the futile pursuit of a military solution. Rather, let there be a renewed commitment to seek, with courage and determination, a peaceful solution through dialogue and negotiation of the parties, unanimously supported by the international community."

While the U.S. is seeking to garner international support for a military strike against the Assad regime the Vatican appears to be doing the exact same thing with the opposite goal in mind. The Holy See briefed approximately 70 of its ambassadors on its stance on the Syrian conflict in the hopes that they would take this message to the governments of their respective host countries.

As the spiritual leader of 1.2 billion Catholics, Pope Francis does have influence especially for his down to earth approach which has become a trademark of his papacy. As stated before the Vatican does not have any way of exercising enforcement but it does garner the respect and consideration of fellow national governments. This is all the Vatican asks for and they and all people of faith place their hope in the fact that prayer will take care of the rest.

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Joseph Hughes

I currently live in Washington DC where I study International Relations with an emphasis in Peace and Justice Studies. In addition to this I interned for the House Subcommittee on Africa, Global Health, Global Human Rights, and International Organizations where I conducted research that pertained to Congressional Hearings.

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