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News

Church leaders pin hopes on Syria peace talks in Geneva
20 January 2014 15:02 by Liz Dodd

Catholic leaders have called for a global campaign of prayer for an end to Syria’s bloody conflict as world leaders prepare to take part in an international UN-backed peace conference in Switzerland.

Today Cardinal-designate Vincent Nichols, the Archbishop of Westminster, called for prayers for those attending this week’s Geneva II Middle East peace conference which is due to start on Wednesday in Montreux.

He described Syria as a “vale of tears”.

“We pray that those attending the talks will focus all their efforts on creating peace and respect for the dignity of every Syrian so that families may again flourish within their own land.”

He extended his call for prayer to “all people of good will”, even those who do not normally pray.

The leader of Catholics in Syria, Melkite Greek Catholic Patriarch Gregorios III urged Christians in Syria and throughout the world to pray for the success of the summit.

He prayed that a peace that was “really Syrian” would emerge from the conference which will involve up to 30 countries including the US, the UK, France, Germany and Saudi Arabia, which has funded rebel groups in the conflict.

“We beg [God] to inspire the countries and their representatives who are about to meet with the wherewithal for peace, security and a better future for Syrians,” he said.

The UN last night retracted Iran's invitation to the summit. Iran, which is a major ally of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, had said it would attend the talks, a move that drew criticism from the Syrian opposition, which threatened to suspend its participation in the summit.

Last week five armed men beheaded a Syrian Christian because he was wearing a cross around his neck, the news agency Fides reported. Firas Nader, 29, was pulled from his car near the Christian-majority village of Marmarita in north-western Syria and beheaded. His companion Fadi Matanius Mattah, 34, was wounded but escaped and was taken to a hospital in the city of Tartus.

Pope Francis has repeatedly urged the international community to renew its efforts to bring peace to the country through dialogue, notably calling for a global prayer vigil for peace in September as Western leaders were considering military intervention.

In his speech to Vatican diplomats last week he called for an end to the civil war which has killed more than 100, 000 people and displaced millions.

Damaged Syriac Catholic Church in Homs, Syria - CNS photo/Yazen Homsy, Reuters