Vatican Diplomat Attends Syria Summit

VATICAN CITY (CNS) — A Vatican diplomat attended an international summit seeking an end to Syria’s yearlong civil war.

Archbishop Michael L. Fitzgerald, apostolic nuncio to Egypt and the Holy See’s delegate to the Arab League, was an observer at the so-called Friends of Syria meeting Feb. 24 in Tunis, Tunisia, said the Vatican’s top spokesman, Jesuit Father Federico Lombardi.

The meeting of representatives of about 60 Western and Arab states called for an immediate cease-fire and demanded that Syria open humanitarian corridors. The nations also pledged to increase aid and to set up relief depots in areas along the Syrian border.

A nationwide uprising against the government of Bashir al-Assad began last March, and Syrian security forces have stepped up efforts to defeat the opposition movement, especially in Homs, a center of resistance. A U.N. report released Feb. 23 accused the regime of “crimes against humanity.”

The Vatican’s participation at the summit, at the invitation of Tunisia’s foreign minister, was “intended to show the closeness and solidarity of the Holy See with all of the Syrian people” and its wish for “peace and stability” in the region, Father Lombardi said.

Father Lombardi added that the “spirit and inspiring principles” guiding Archbishop Fitzgerald at the talks were those expressed by Pope Benedict XVI Feb. 12, when he called on ”everyone, especially Syria’s political authorities, to favor the path of dialogue, reconciliation and a commitment to peace.”

The Vatican spokesman also voiced hopes that the talks would help guarantee the rights of Syria’s Christians, who account for about 16 percent of the country’s population.

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