“My beloved Syria is being tormented by a war already lasted for eight years” stated Pope Francis and appealed for peace, “at this time, I would like to make mine the hope of the children in Syria.” With these words, immediately following the noon Angelus prayer at St. Peter’s Square in Rome, Pope Francis lit a large candle for peace and reconciliation in Syria – a country torn apart by a war that has now lasted longer than World War II.
With this act the Holy Father marked the start of the Candles for Peace in Syria initiative, an Advent campaign of the pontifical charity Aid to the Church in Need (ACN) aimed at raising awareness and support for the suffering Christians in this country. “May the flame of hope also reach all those who are suffering in these days from conflicts and tensions in various other parts of the world, near and far”, stated the Pope. “Let us pray and help Christians to remain in Syria and the Middle East as witnesses of mercy, forgiveness, and reconciliation”.
The Candles for Peace campaign started in Syria when local Christian communities together with ACN, invited schoolchildren throughout the country to draw and write messages for peace on the candle’s cardboard wind shields and then, to gather for processions, theatre, songs and dances for peace. The main candle given to the Holy Father was created during these events in Damascus, decorated by photos of Syrian children participating in the candles for peace action. “Advent is a time for hope,” said Pope Francis, “this is why, joining the initiative of the Aid to the Church in Need, I will light now this candle. In Syria there are so many children who are doing the same.”
The Pope called upon the faithful gathered in St. Peter’s Square to pray a “Hail Mary” for peace in Syria and throughout the world. “May this prayer make them feel the closeness of God, who is faithful, and touch every conscience for a sincere commitment in favour of peace. May God, our Lord, forgive those who make war, those who make weapons to destroy one another. We pray for peace in beloved Syria.”
To draw policymakers’ attention to the fact that children are the prime victims of war, Aid to the Church in Need together with the Polish embassy at the Holy See, will hold a conference on Monday, December 3 for the diplomatic corps accredited to Vatican. The conference featuring testimonies from Syria will be crowned by a Skype bridge, in which a representative group of children in Aleppo, Syria, will light candles in union with the ambassadors.