Syrian war

The Pope and the President: What to Look for in the Obama-Francis Summit

Original photo by Andrea Sabbadini/RNS.

Original photo by Andrea Sabbadini/RNS. illustration created through

The news that President Obama will meet with Pope Francis on March 27 brightened a snowy Tuesday morning for Catholics who see a broad overlap between the president’s agenda and the pontiff’s repeated denunciations of income inequality and “trickle down” economics, and his support for the poor and migrants.

Other Catholics, especially conservatives already unsettled by Francis’ new approach, hoped that the pope would use the encounter at the Vatican to wag a finger at Obama over the president’s support for abortion rights and gay marriage.

So what will the two leaders talk about? What issues will they avoid? With Francis, anything is possible, but here are some initial ideas on how the summit could play out:

'Except by Prayer and Fasting'

© Mazur/ /

© Mazur/ /

Editor's note: Sojourners is taking part in Pope Francis' Saturday call to pray for peace. Will you join us?

We learned the story in Sunday School.

Jesus and his inner circle — Peter, the rock, and James and John, the sons of thunder — came down from the Mount of Transfiguration and found the disciples facing their own inability to cast an unclean spirit out of a young boy. Annoyed with the disciples, Jesus says to the father: “If you believe, all things are possible to him who believes.” (Mark 9:23) The father replies: “Lord, I believe; help my unbelief.” (Mark 9:24) Jesus casts out the unclean spirit. Later, when the disciples ask why they were unable to do it, Jesus says that some only come out through prayer and fasting.

For anyone to think that it is a good idea to use chemical weapons in warfare is evidence of the presence of an unclean spirit. A cycle of violence and vengeance in war is also evidence of an unclean spirit. War itself is evidence of the presence of an unclean spirit. Such is the case in Syria. The leaders, both religious and secular, have been possessed of a spirit that causes them to be blind to the brotherhood and sisterhood of all of humanity. They cannot hear reason or speak truth.

As the world considers an appropriate response to the use of chemical weapons in the Syrian civil war, and as the U.S. Congress contemplates giving President Barack Obama its approval to launch limited military strikes against the Assad regime, those of us who call ourselves believers face our own challenge and responsibility. What do we believe? The Bible tells us that there is a time for every purpose under heaven: “A time of war, and a time of peace.” (Ecclesiastes 3:8) The Bible also says that we ought to submit ourselves to authority: “Let every soul be subject to the governing authorities. For there is no authority except from God, and the authorities that exist are appointed by God.” (Romans 13:1)

Syrian Civil War Forces Sunni and Shiite Muslims to Pick Sides

Photo courtesy FreedomHouse via Flickr

Syria independence flag flies over a large pathering of protesters in Idlib. Photo courtesy FreedomHouse via Flickr

The Syrian civil war is increasingly drawing in nations across the Middle East, a regionwide conflict that threatens to pit world powers against each other and Muslim against Muslim.

On Wednesday, the United Nations Human Rights Council pushed through a resolution to investigate the abuses of the Syrian regime, over the objections of the regime’s ally Russia, who insisted the West was making matters worse.

U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry continued his travels in the region, trying to get all parties to agree to a peace conference in Geneva in the next few weeks. But councils representing the Syrian rebels again refused to join, demanding that representatives of Bashar Assad’s regime be banned.

In a war that is now clearly pitting the two main branches of the Islam — Sunni and Shiite Muslims — against one another, the dithering and differences between world powers is bringing about a desperate situation, according to experts.