Persons, places and things: Syrian crisis calls for prayer, reflection


By Barb Arland-Fye


“I am torn,” a commenter says in response to a New York Times article titled “Obama seeks approval by Congress for strike in Syria” (Aug. 31).  I, too, feel anguish over the suffering being inflicted on children and adults in Syria. But I believe a military strike, limited or not, against Syrian President Bashar al-Assad will only escalate the violence and bloodshed.
Dan Ebener succinctly states in a guest opinion piece in this week’s Catholic Messenger that “We are quick to resort to military solutions because we lack the strength, wisdom and know-how to resolve international conflicts in peaceful ways. The problem is not that peacemaking has been tried and failed. Nonviolent means have not been tried.”
Dan knows a thing or two about peacemaking. He has been actively involved in confliction resolution efforts for years and facilitates collaboration in and among parishes in our Davenport Diocese where he serves as director of stewardship and parish planning.  Dan, a professor at St. Ambrose University in Davenport, has also authored books on servant leadership and on leadership wisdom from the beatitudes.
He recommended that I read an essay by the late Eileen Egan, a Pacem in Terris Peace and Freedom Award recipient, who examined the implications of the beatitudes for our times.  Although Egan died 13 years ago, I believe her essay “The Beatitudes, the Works of Mercy, and Pacifism” carries an important message for those of us wondering how to respond to the crisis in Syria.
She provides real-life examples of how war contradicts the beatitudes. Regarding the second beatitude, “Happy are the merciful: for they shall obtain mercy,” Egan noted that when it comes to war, “the works of mercy are not merely interrupted, but in an obscene way, reversed.  She noted that 750,000 acres of crop-producing land in France remained riddled with mines after World War II, a consequence of a Nazi strategy to spread hunger among civilian populations long after fighting had ceased. In Vietnam, herbicides were sprayed in enemy territory to cut off food supplies to opposing forces. The devastation had lasting impacts.
“Since World War II,” Egan noted in her 1982 essay, “conflicts in India, China, Korea, Vietnam, and the Middle East have generated at least twenty-five million homeless refugees, tossed about the world like ‘loose grains of sand.’”
Sheltering the homeless, one of the works of mercy, is becoming a monumental task as a consequence of war. The UN refugee agency UNHCR reported Aug. 23 that one million Syrian children have been registered as refugees as a result of their country’s civil war, now in its third year. Children now account for half of all refugees in the Syrian conflict.(
“The youth of Syria are losing their homes, their family members and their futures. Even after they have crossed a border to safety, they are traumatized, depressed and in need of hope,” the website quoted High Commissioner Antonio Guterres of UNHCR.
President Obama is calling for a limited strategic strike against the Assad regime: quick and out.  A decade ago our country invaded Iraq because of its alleged possession of weapons of mass destruction that threatened our security. Countless lives have been lost, maimed or ruined as a consequence of an invasion that grew into a nearly decade-long war.
Egan reminds us in her essay that Jesus calls us to be merciful to our enemies. Our nation’s desire for a quick-fix to the crisis in Syria is understandable because people are suffering and dying. But a solution involving a military attack could result in even greater suffering in the long run.
Last weekend a local newspaper published an item about Pope Francis expressing anguish about the situation in Syria and calling for a day of prayer and fasting on Sept. 7 in response. For me, his request is the best choice we can make to help guide us toward the best solution to a humanitarian crisis.

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