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Pope Francis condemns shocking chemical massacre in Syria

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Catholic News Service

VATICAN CITY — Pope Francis strongly condemned a shocking chemical attack in Syria that left some 70 people, including at least 10 children, dead.

A child receives treatment inside a field hospital in Idlib, Syria, after April 3 airstrikes. A suspected chemical attack in a town in Syria's rebel-held northern Idlib province killed dozens of people April 3, opposition activists said. (CNS photo/via EPA)

A child receives treatment inside a field hospital in Idlib, Syria, after April 3 airstrikes. A suspected chemical attack in a town in Syria’s rebel-held northern Idlib province killed dozens of people April 3, opposition activists said. (CNS photo/via EPA)

“We are horrified by the latest events in Syria. I strongly deplore the unacceptable massacre that took place yesterday in the Idlib province, where dozens of civilians, including many children, were killed,” the pope said April 5 before concluding his weekly general audience in St. Peter’s Square.

Images of dead men, women and children lying on the streets provoked international outrage following the attack April 4 in a rebel-held area.

Western leaders have accused Syrian President Bashar Assad and the country’s military of perpetrating the attack, based on reports that warplanes dropped chemical bombs in the early morning.

According to The New York Times, the Syrian military denied attacking the town and said the attack was caused by insurgents who blame the Syrian government for similar attacks “every time they fail to achieve the goals of their sponsors.”

Pope Francis encouraged those helping with relief efforts in Idlib province, and he appealed to world leaders to put an end to the violence.

“I appeal to the conscience of those who have political responsibility at the local and international level, so that this tragedy may come to an end and relief may come to that beloved population who for too long have been devastated by war,” the pope said.

The attack occurred the same day representatives from more than 70 countries were gathering in Brussels for an April 4-5 conference on resolving the humanitarian crisis in Syria and to discuss ways to support a peaceful resolution to the conflict.

Archbishop Paul Gallagher, Vatican secretary for relations with states, was among the representatives and addressed the conference April 5.

The Holy See, he said, “remains deeply concerned about the tremendous human suffering, affecting millions of innocent children and other civilians who remain deprived of essential humanitarian aid, medical facilities and education.”

He called for humanitarian laws to “be fully respected,” especially “with regard to the protection of civilian populations” and the “conditions and treatment of prisoners.”

“The Holy See invites all parties to the Syrian conflict to spare no effort to end the seemingly endless cycle of violence, to restore that sense of solidarity that is the basis of social cohesion and peaceful coexistence,” Archbishop Gallagher said.

The pope also said his thoughts and prayers were with the victims of the bombing of a metro station in St. Petersburg, Russia, that killed 14 people and left 50 wounded.

Chaos erupted April 3 when a bomb was detonated in a subway train. Police said the bomber was Akbarzhon Dzhalilov, a Russian citizen born in Kyrgyzstan. Following the attack, security forces said a second bomb was found at a nearby station, but it had failed to explode.

“As I entrust to God’s mercy those who have tragically died, I express my spiritual closeness to their families and to all who suffer because of this tragic event,” Pope Francis said.

 

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Anti-Christian animus said to be behind Oregon college shooting spree

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ROSEBURG, Ore. — The gunman behind the Oct. 1 massacre at Umpqua Community College in Roseburg reportedly asked students whether they were Christian.

Umpqua Community College alumna Donice Smith, left, is embraced after learning one of her former teachers was killed in Roseburg, Ore., Oct. 1. (CNS photo/Steve Dipaola, Reuters)

Umpqua Community College alumna Donice Smith, left, is embraced after learning one of her former teachers was killed in Roseburg, Ore., Oct. 1. (CNS photo/Steve Dipaola, Reuters)

One student at the college, and the sister of a second student, both told news organizations that the apparent shooter, Chris Mercer, 26, told people in classrooms to stand up and declare whether they were Christian. If they responded yes, they were shot in the head. If they answered no or gave some other answer, they were shot elsewhere.

Nine people were killed and nine others wounded before Mercer died in an exchange of gunfire with officers at the scene.

Archbishop Alexander K. Sample of Portland sent a message Oct. 1 to worshippers gathered at St. Joseph Church in Roseburg.

“I am saddened beyond words,” Archbishop Sample said. “We are one body in Christ, and when even one member suffers, we all suffer with them. My heard is indeed very heavy with sorry as I grieve with all of you.”

He added, “Along with you, I cannot begin to make sense of the tragic loss of life of our fellow community members and the many wounded in this terrible and violent attack. Why such shooting tragedies continue to happen is hard to understand. Sadly, we live in the midst of a culture that does not value the dignity and sacredness of every human life as it once did.”

President Barack Obama, at a White House briefing Oct. 1, asked how anyone could argue that more guns will make people safer.

“I hope and pray that I don’t have to come out again during my tenure as president to offer my condolences to families in these circumstances,” Obama said. “But based on my experience as president, I can’t guarantee that. And that’s terrible to say.”

The president added, “It cannot be this easy for somebody who wants to inflict harm on other people to get his or her hands on a gun. … I’d ask the American people to think about how they can get our government to change these (gun) laws and to save lives and to let young people grow up, and that will require a change of politics.”

Two Catholic hospitals, Mercy Medical Center in Roseburg and PeaceHealth Sacred Heart Medical Center at RiverBend in Springfield, treated some of those wounded in the shooting.

“We pray for the victims and their families, and we call for reasonable gun violence control measures to save more innocent lives from meeting the same tragic ends,” said an Oct. 2 statement by the Jewish Committee on Public Affairs. “What’s more, it appears this crime may have been motivated by anti-Christian bias. Crimes based on prejudice and hatred are deplorable and are anathema to the fundamental values of democracy upon which this nation is founded.”

The statement added, “The overwhelming carnage from the endless stream of mass shootings is utterly unacceptable. Comprehensive and fully enforced gun regulation and violence prevention is needed to restore the safety of our schools, communities, and public spaces. While no single solution will prevent all future tragedies, we are committed to supporting efforts to save lives.”

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