Speaking to the faithful gathered in the courtyard of the Apostolic Palace in Castel Gandolfo, the pope said at the end of the Angelus prayer, “Dear brothers and sisters, I follow with deep concern the dramatic and rising number of violent incidents in Syria, which have caused many victims and a lot of suffering. I urge Catholic faithful to pray that the effort at reconciliation may prevail over division and rancour. I also appeal to the authorities and people of Syria to re-establish peace as soon as possible and that the legitimate demands of the country’s people be adequately met, respecting their dignity and to the benefit of regional stability. My thoughts also go to Libya, where the use of weapons has not resolved the situation. I urge international organisations and those with political and military responsibilities to search again with conviction and resolve a peace plan for the country, through negotiations and a constructive dialogue.”
Since the month of March, in the wake of the ‘Jasmine Revolution’ in Tunisia and Egypt, demonstrations have taken place in Syria against Assad’s repression and the attacks and sieges by the military, which according to the opposition have caused hundreds of dead and tens of thousands of arrests.
Syrian Christians, whilst in support of many of the demands for greater freedom and democracy, fear that the fall of Assad might bring a radical Islamic regime that would deprive them and other minorities of true religious freedom (see Samir Khalil Samir, “Syria’s uprising: violence will not stop a people seeking freedom and dignity,” in AsiaNews, 3 August 2011).
Since February, civil war had torn Libya civil apart. Rebels in Benghazi are de facto backed by NATO planes and ships. The latter are supposed to protect civilians (in Benghazi) but in fact are causing deaths among civilians in Tripoli. Despite dozens of air strikes in the past few months, the situation is at a stalemate with huge human, economic and infrastructural losses on all parts, including NATO countries.
Before his Angelus address, the pope commented today’s Gospel (XIX during Year A), which presents the miracle of the storm that was appeased and during which Peter was rescued (Mt, 14:22-33). “It is an incident whose great significance the Fathers of the Church understood. The sea symbolises today’s life and the instability of the visible world. The storm indicates the many troubles that oppress man. The boat, instead, represents the Church built on Christ and led by the Apostles. Jesus wants to educate the disciples to bear with courage the adversities of life, placing their trust in God, the One who revealed himself to the prophet Elijah on Mount Horeb in “a tiny whispering sound” (1 Kings, 19:12).
On Peter’s rescue, “Saint Augustine, imaging that he was addressing the apostle, said, ‘The Lord lowered himself and took you by the hand. On your own, you cannot stand up. Squeeze the hand that comes down to you’ (Enarr. in Ps. 95:7; PL 36, 1233)! Peter walks on the water not because of his own strength but because of divine grace in which he believes. When doubt overwhelms him, when he stops looking at Jesus and is afraid of the wind, when he no longer fully trusts the words of the Master, he moves away from Him and begins to sink. The great thinker Romano Guardini wrote that the Lord “is always near us for he is the root of our being. However, we must test our relationship with God between the poles of distance and proximity. Proximity invigorates us; distance tests us’ (Accettare se stessi, Brescia 1992, 71).”
“Before we seek or invoke him, the Lord himself comes to us, lowering the Heaven to hold out a hand and raise us to his height,” Benedict XVI said. “He only waits for us to trust him completely. Let us call on the Virgin Mary, a model of complete trust in God, that amid so many concerns, problems and difficulties that trouble the sea of our life, our hearts may heed the reassuring word of Jesus, ‘Have courage! It is me; fear not!’, so that our faith in Him may grow.”