By Thomas Williams
Following on the latest spate of devastating attacks by the Islamic State in Syria, Pope Francis prayed to God Wednesday to “convert the hearts of those who sow death and destruction.”
In his weekly general audience in St. Peter’s Square, the Pope addressed the tens of thousands of pilgrims and tourists in a special appeal for prayer for the Middle East.
Referencing terrorist attacks in “beloved Syria” that slaughtered “hundreds of unarmed civilians,” the Pope urged everyone to pray to God, the Father of mercies, to grant “eternal rest to the victims and consolation to their families.”
The Pope also asked people to pray so that God might “convert the hearts” of those who would perpetrate such actions, sowing “death and destruction.”
Following on this appeal, Francis asked the people gathered in the square to join him in praying the “Hail Mary” out loud to ask the Virgin Mary’s intercession for those affected by the recent jihadist attack.
On Monday, Islamic militants attacked a series of civilian targets, setting off seven explosions in bus stations, hospitals and other sites in the seaside cities of Jableh and Tartus, killing more than 150 people, including eight children.
Another 300 people were wounded in the attacks, which ISIS called a retaliation for Syrian regime and Russian air strikes against jihadists.
In an extensive interview with the French Catholic daily La Croix published last Tuesday, Pope Francis expressed his conviction that the Islamic State terror group must be distinguished from Islam as a religion.
Asked what he thought of the widespread fear of Islam in the West, Francis replied that his impression is that most people don’t fear “Islam as such” but rather “Daesh [the Islamic State] and its war of conquest,” which he said was “drawn in part from Islam.” The Pope also acknowledged, however, that the “idea of conquest is inherent to the soul of Islam.”
The Pope furthermore stated his belief that “coexistence among Christians and Muslims is possible,” citing examples from his native Argentina, as well as that of Central Africa and Lebanon.
“In Central Africa, before the war, Christians and Muslims lived together and must learn to do so again today,” he said.
“Every person desires communion and peace,” Francis said in a video-messageWednesday.