RALEIGH — As tens of thousands of people congregated in St. Peter’s Square in Vatican City to participate in a global day of prayer and fasting for peace in Syria, smaller but just as ardent crowds gathered Saturday in the Triangle to echo Pope Francis’ opposition to threatened military strikes.
At Sacred Heart Cathedral in Raleigh, dozens of people filled the pews at a Mass for Peace organized quickly after the pope spoke out last week against Western military intervention in Syria.
As the United States and its allies debate how to respond to a chemical weapons attack, Bishop Michael F. Burbidge of the Catholic diocese in Raleigh delivered a homily asking his listeners to set aside their anger and anguish. “We speak for peace,” Burbidge said and echoed the pope’s call on Sept. 1 for a culture of dialogue over confrontation.
“Never has the use of violence brought peace in its wake,” Burbidge said, recounting the pope’s words. “War begets war. Violence begets violence.”
Throughout the past week, the Vatican has intensified its peace message, summoning ambassadors for a briefing by the Holy See foreign minister and appealing directly to world leaders at the Group of 20 summit meeting in Russia. President Barack Obama is seeking support in Congress for a limited military strike against Syria.
The pope has described a military solution as “a futile pursuit” and called for a negotiated settlement instead. Bishops around the world joined the pontiff in his daylong fast and held vigils that drew Christians and non-Christians to church services.
Voices at Sacred Heart
John Madonna, a Wake County resident and member of St. Mary’s Catholic Church in Garner, attended the Sacred Heart Cathedral service and spoke out against military intervention.
“I think they have a Pandora’s Box that they’re opening, and nobody knows what’s going to happen,” Madonna said afterward. “We’re looking for a common-sense solution.”
Liz Murphy, a member of St. Michael Catholic Church in Cary, said she was a believer in the power of prayer, and she was among those praying the rosary for peace.
“I don’t think we need any more conflict, any more bloodshed,” Murphy said.
An ecumenical service
After the Mass at Sacred Heart, Burbidge joined other interfaith leaders for an ecumenical prayer service at St. Francis of Assisi Church in Raleigh.
Sandy Irving, a Presbyterian from Raleigh, was at the ecumenical service and also a war protest on Saturday afternoon that drew several dozen to the Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial Gardens in Southeast Raleigh.
“I believe we have to learn to solve problems nonviolently,” Irving said.
Naeema Muhammad, a Rocky Mount resident who came to the protest organized by a coalition of labor, student and other political action groups, said she was upset by the images of the Syrian children and adults succumbing to the gas attacks.
“It does play into my heart,” Muhammad said. “The thing I say about that is: How did it happen? Who is responsible? We don’t want another war declared on lies like we did with the Iraq war.”
Fritzi Ross, a freelance writer from Carrboro at the afternoon war protest, said she did not have any easy answers for how the United States should respond to the assertions that Syrian President Bashar Assad used poison gas on his own people. But she noted that President Barack Obama was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 2009 for “extraordinary efforts to strengthen international diplomacy and cooperation between peoples.”
“President Obama is the one with the Peace Prize under his belt,” Ross said.