by Gabino Zavala, Director of Justice and Peace Ministry
The images coming out of Syria were horrific: an unconscionable attack by the Syrian government on their most vulnerable citizens. Children and infants being carried by their parents and stripped and watered down as they struggled to breath after the chemical bombs exploded around them. A grieving father burying his infants who died in the attack.
Motivated by this war crime our government retaliated almost immediately launching 59 cruise missiles at an air base in Syria for this use of chemical weapons on its own people. Most Americans and many others throughout the world supported the response of the United States to this vicious chemical attack.
We mourn for all those that died in both of these incidents. Should we not also denounce the use of violence that only exacerbates the violence of war? This violent conflict in Syria has already killed 300,00 people and led to almost 5 million refugees and 7 million internally displaced persons. These are the same people trying to escape this violence that this administration’s policies doesn’t want to allow to enter our country as refugees.
As Christians we are challenged to reflect on the example of Jesus who courageously resisted injustice even at the cost of his own life. He responded with compassion and merciful justice that is beyond our imagination. He met violence with nonviolence even at the moment of his death on the cross. As Pope Francis stated in his annual message for the World Day for Peace (Nonviolence: A Style of Politics for Peace, Jan.1, 2017), “countering violence with violence leads at best to forced migrations and enormous suffering, because vast amounts of resources are diverted to military ends and away from the everyday needs of young people, families experiencing hardship, the elderly, the infirm and the great majority of people in our world. At worst it can lead to the death, physical and spiritual, of many people, if not all”. The Pope calls on all people, especially government officials to use the Sermon on the Mount as the manual for peacemaking and to apply the Beatitudes in the exercise of their responsibilities.
Fr. John Pavlik, OFM. Cap., the Executive Director of the Conference of Major Superiors of Men (CMSM), says, “Our hearts were broken as we learned of the suffering inflicted upon Syrian families and children with chemical weapons. And our hearts were wounded a second time in our violent response with cruise missiles bombing, destroying, and killing yet more. The US response manifested strong military power but showed nothing of a united will to lift, rescue, and save suffering people from the ravages of war. The U.S. can be much better than this.”
A recent CMSM statement said, ” The issue we must face is not simply chemical weapons, but war itself along with the habits and structures of violence that enable it.” Let us commit ourselves to Pope Francis’ call to make ”every effort to build peace through active and creative nonviolence” (Nonviolence: Style of Politics for Peace).