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Vatican: 100,000 attend Syria peace vigil

  • Pope Francis attends a vigil for peace in St. Peter's Square at the Vatican, Saturday, Sept. 7, 2013. Tens of thousands of people have answered Pope Francis' call and massed in St. Peter's Square for a 4-hour-long prayer vigil for peace in Syria. It was believed to be one of the first, and certainly the largest popular rally in the West against U.S.-led plans to strike Syria following the Aug. 21 chemical weapons attack near Damascus. (AP Photo/Riccardo De Luca)

    Pope Francis attends a vigil for peace in St. Peter's Square at the Vatican, Saturday, Sept. 7, 2013. Tens of thousands of people have answered Pope Francis' call and massed in St. Peter's Square for a 4-hour-long prayer vigil for peace in Syria. It was believed to be one of the first, and certainly the largest popular rally in the West against U.S.-led plans to strike Syria following the Aug. 21 chemical weapons attack near Damascus. (AP Photo/Riccardo De Luca)

  • People hold Syrian flags and signs against a possible attack to Syria, prior to the start of a vigil for peace attended by Pope Francis in St. Peter's Square at the Vatican, Saturday, Sept. 7, 2013. Tens of thousands of people have answered Pope Francis' call and massed in St. Peter's Square for a 4-hour-long prayer vigil for peace in Syria. It was believed to be one of the first, and certainly the largest popular rally in the West against U.S.-led plans to strike Syria following the Aug. 21 chemical weapons attack near Damascus. (AP Photo/Riccardo De Luca)

    People hold Syrian flags and signs against a possible attack to Syria, prior to the start of a vigil for peace attended by Pope Francis in St. Peter's Square at the Vatican, Saturday, Sept. 7, 2013. Tens of thousands of people have answered Pope Francis' call and massed in St. Peter's Square for a 4-hour-long prayer vigil for peace in Syria. It was believed to be one of the first, and certainly the largest popular rally in the West against U.S.-led plans to strike Syria following the Aug. 21 chemical weapons attack near Damascus. (AP Photo/Riccardo De Luca)

  • Pope Francis attends a vigil for peace in St. Peter's Square at the Vatican, Saturday, Sept. 7, 2013. Tens of thousands of people have answered Pope Francis' call and massed in St. Peter's Square for a 4-hour-long prayer vigil for peace in Syria. It was believed to be one of the first, and certainly the largest popular rally in the West against U.S.-led plans to strike Syria following the Aug. 21 chemical weapons attack near Damascus. (AP Photo/Riccardo De Luca)

    Pope Francis attends a vigil for peace in St. Peter's Square at the Vatican, Saturday, Sept. 7, 2013. Tens of thousands of people have answered Pope Francis' call and massed in St. Peter's Square for a 4-hour-long prayer vigil for peace in Syria. It was believed to be one of the first, and certainly the largest popular rally in the West against U.S.-led plans to strike Syria following the Aug. 21 chemical weapons attack near Damascus. (AP Photo/Riccardo De Luca)

  • People hold Syrian flags and signs against a possible attack to Syria, prior to the start of a vigil for peace attended by Pope Francis in St. Peter's Square at the Vatican, Saturday, Sept. 7, 2013. Tens of thousands of people have answered Pope Francis' call and massed in St. Peter's Square for a 4-hour-long prayer vigil for peace in Syria. It was believed to be one of the first, and certainly the largest popular rally in the West against U.S.-led plans to strike Syria following the Aug. 21 chemical weapons attack near Damascus. (AP Photo/Riccardo De Luca)

    People hold Syrian flags and signs against a possible attack to Syria, prior to the start of a vigil for peace attended by Pope Francis in St. Peter's Square at the Vatican, Saturday, Sept. 7, 2013. Tens of thousands of people have answered Pope Francis' call and massed in St. Peter's Square for a 4-hour-long prayer vigil for peace in Syria. It was believed to be one of the first, and certainly the largest popular rally in the West against U.S.-led plans to strike Syria following the Aug. 21 chemical weapons attack near Damascus. (AP Photo/Riccardo De Luca)

  • Pope Francis attends a vigil for peace in St. Peter's Square at the Vatican, Saturday, Sept. 7, 2013. Tens of thousands of people have answered Pope Francis' call and massed in St. Peter's Square for a 4-hour-long prayer vigil for peace in Syria. It was believed to be one of the first, and certainly the largest popular rally in the West against U.S.-led plans to strike Syria following the Aug. 21 chemical weapons attack near Damascus. (AP Photo/Riccardo De Luca)
  • People hold Syrian flags and signs against a possible attack to Syria, prior to the start of a vigil for peace attended by Pope Francis in St. Peter's Square at the Vatican, Saturday, Sept. 7, 2013. Tens of thousands of people have answered Pope Francis' call and massed in St. Peter's Square for a 4-hour-long prayer vigil for peace in Syria. It was believed to be one of the first, and certainly the largest popular rally in the West against U.S.-led plans to strike Syria following the Aug. 21 chemical weapons attack near Damascus. (AP Photo/Riccardo De Luca)
  • Pope Francis attends a vigil for peace in St. Peter's Square at the Vatican, Saturday, Sept. 7, 2013. Tens of thousands of people have answered Pope Francis' call and massed in St. Peter's Square for a 4-hour-long prayer vigil for peace in Syria. It was believed to be one of the first, and certainly the largest popular rally in the West against U.S.-led plans to strike Syria following the Aug. 21 chemical weapons attack near Damascus. (AP Photo/Riccardo De Luca)
  • People hold Syrian flags and signs against a possible attack to Syria, prior to the start of a vigil for peace attended by Pope Francis in St. Peter's Square at the Vatican, Saturday, Sept. 7, 2013. Tens of thousands of people have answered Pope Francis' call and massed in St. Peter's Square for a 4-hour-long prayer vigil for peace in Syria. It was believed to be one of the first, and certainly the largest popular rally in the West against U.S.-led plans to strike Syria following the Aug. 21 chemical weapons attack near Damascus. (AP Photo/Riccardo De Luca)

Tens of thousands of people filled St. Peter’s Square for a four-hour Syria peace vigil yesterday, answering Pope Francis’s call for a grassroots cry for peace that was echoed by Christians and non-Christians alike in Syria and in vigils around the world.

The Vatican estimated about 100,000 took part in the Rome event, making it one of the largest rallies in the West against proposed U.S.-led military action against the Syrian regime following the Aug. 21 chemical weapons attack near Damascus.

Francis spent most of the vigil in silent prayer, but during his speech he issued a heartfelt plea for peace, denouncing those who are “captivated by the idols of dominion and power” and destroy God’s creation through war.

“This evening, I ask the Lord that we Christians, and our brothers and sisters of other religions and every man and woman of good will, cry out forcefully: Violence and war are never the way to peace!” he said.

“May the noise of weapons cease!” he said. “War always marks the failure of peace, it is always a defeat for humanity.”

In Damascus, a few dozen Syrian Christians attended a service in the al-Zaytoun Church, joining Francis’s invitation for a global participation in the day of fasting and prayer and to oppose outside military intervention in the conflict.

Greek Catholic Patriarch Gregorios III Laham of Antioch and All East presided, saying most countries supported a political solution to the crisis in Syria and few wanted military action. “This is the start of the victory,” he told the Damascus faithful. “No to war. Yes for peace.”

In Washington, D.C., at least 150 protesters picketed in front of the White House and marched to Capitol Hill to voice their opposition to a U.S. military strike in Syria. Anti-war protests were also held in other U.S. cities, including one in New York City’s Times Square and a prayer vigil in Boston that echoed yesterday’s massive gathering at the Vatican.

Medea Benjamin, a founder of the anti-war group Code Pink, said a cross-section of Americans, many of whom disagree on a variety of issues, are united against military intervention.

“We have suddenly found ourselves united as Americans, overwhelmingly saying we will not let you drag us into another war,” Benjamin shouted into a megaphone in front of the White House.

This week, Francis appealed directly to world powers at the Group of 20 meeting in Russia, urging them to abandon the “futile pursuit” of a military solution in Syria and work instead for a negotiated settlement.

Francis has condemned the use of chemical weapons in Syria, but has been careful not to lay blame on any one side, exhorting world leaders instead to focus on the plight of Syrian civilians and the need in general to end the violence.

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