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Christians against intervention

Brian Kaneb | Thursday, August 29, 2013

The Vatican is a defender of tradition when it comes to social issues. Even Pope Francis, a relative reformist, used his first encyclical to point out that only heterosexual couples can “give birth to a new life” and “become one flesh.” These politically controversial parts often overshadow the whole, which is unfortunate considering they only take up one paragraph of the  60-paragraph letter. Pope Francis probably wanted readers to focus on other themes. The Second Vatican Council’s understanding of the Church being “bound to no particular human culture” is likely one of these, especially considering the first citation of scripture in the encyclical had to do with universal salvation.
The Vatican’s response to the Syrian Civil War has made clear that it takes its universality seriously. In a time when it is very much human culture to conform to calls for intervention in the conflict, the Church has cautioned against action. Its initial statement advocating for an agreement that “takes into account the legitimate interests and aspirations of the different peoples involved” may sound like little more than a general guideline, but its subsequent statements have been more like specific warnings. This is best seen in its reaction to the chemical weapons attacks on thousands of people last week in Ghouta, an eastern section of Syria’s capital of Damascus. Once Britain and France hinted this was the last straw, the Vatican came out against armed intervention because “experience has shown with Iraq and Afghanistan” that it “does not bring any constructive results.”
This opposition may come as a surprise when one learns of the degree to which the war has affected the Church. Most Christians in Syria are not aligned with the Roman Catholic Church, but it is hard not to be alarmed at the Christian population of Homs decreasing from the hundreds of thousands to the hundreds in just two years. This is not to say lay people are the only victims of violence. Even Fr. Francois Murad, a Franciscan who wanted to defend nuns from jihadists targeting his church, lost his life in a likely beheading.
It would have been easy for the Vatican to turn a blind eye to Syria. It could have cited the violence against Christians and added to the pressure on governments to intervene. It could have cited the political nature of military intervention and defer to other states. Yet the Church is aware that its allegiances are beyond borders and that its divine mission should not be subject to popularity amongst aggressive governments.