Tens of thousands filled St. Peter's Square for a four-hour Syria peace vigil late yesterday, answering Pope Francis' call for a grassroots cry for peace that was echoed by Christians and non-Christians alike in Syria and 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 US-led military action against Syria. Francis 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.
The gathering took on the air of an anti-war rally, with protesters holding up Syrian flags and banners in the square reading "Don't attack Syria" and "Obama you don't have a dream, you have a nightmare." The 76-year-old pope held up well throughout the four hours—lasting longer than many who by the vigil's 11pm conclusion had already gone home. He thanked those who had stayed to the end for their company. Elsewhere:
- In Damascus, a few dozen Syrian Christians attended a service in the al-Zaytoun Church, joining Francis' invitation for a global participation in the day of fasting and prayer.
- In Washington, at least 150 protesters picketed in front of the White House and marched to Capitol Hill. Anti-war protests were also held in New York City's Times Square and a prayer vigil was held in Boston.
- In Francis' native Argentina, human rights and religious groups held a vigil in Buenos Aires' Plaza de Mayo and in cities across the country. Vatican Radio reported similar initiatives were taking place throughout Italy, in Cuba and elsewhere.
The peace vigil marked something of a novelty for the Vatican: Nothing of its kind has ever taken place in St. Peter's Square, though popes past have participated in daylong peace prayers in places like Assisi.