Last updated: 22 January, 2014

Pope prays for success of Syria peace talks

Pope Francis prayed Wednesday for a Switzerland peace conference on the Syrian crisis to end in reconciliation, calling on the warring sides to resolve a conflict estimated to have killed more than 130,000 people.

The pontiff called on all parties to “spare no effort in urgently ending violence and a conflict which has already caused too much suffering”.

“Today, in Montreux in Switzerland, an international conference in support of peace in Syria begins,” he told pilgrims gathered for the weekly general audience in St. Peter’s Square.

“I hope for a decisive path to reconciliation, understanding and reconstruction for the dear Syrian nation, with the participation of all citizens, where everyone can find in the other, not an enemy, not a rival, but a brother to accept and hug.”

Nearly three years after the start of a fierce civil war, the opposing sides in Syria gathered with world powers on the shores of Lake Geneva for the most serious effort yet to end the bloodshed.

“I pray to the Lord that he touch everyone’s heart… for the greater good of the Syrian people, who have suffered so much,” the pontiff said.

Erupting after the regime cracked down on protests inspired by the Arab Spring, the civil war has forced millions from their homes.

Recent months have seen the conflict settle into a brutal stalemate — with the death toll rising but neither side making decisive gains.

Expectations for success at the conference are low, but top global diplomats say simply bringing the two sides together is a mark of some progress and could be a key first step.