CAIRO - Leading a global outcry for peace, Pope Francis has led a five-hour prayer vigil for Syria, appealing for world leaders to avoid plunging the humanity into what he termed as a 'spiral of sorrow and death'.
"Violence and war lead only to death, they speak of death! Violence and war are the language of death!" Francis said at the midpoint of a five-hour prayer service, Reuters reported on Saturday, September 7.
The prayer service, called by Francis on Saturday evening, was attended by an estimated crowd of about 100,000 in St Peter's Square in the Vatican City.
It followed plans by the US and France to launch an attack on Syria following August 21 suspected chemical weapons attack near Damascus which killed more than 1300.
At the service, attendants participated in mediations for peace as the sound of music, prayer and reciting of the rosary echoed in the background.
"We have perfected our weapons, our conscience has fallen asleep and we have sharpened our ideas to justify ourselves. As if it were normal we continue to sow destruction, pain, death!" said Francis, who wore his simple white cassock instead of ceremonial robes to the service.
"At this point I ask myself: is it possible to change direction? Can we get out of this spiral of sorrow and death? Can we learn once again to walk and live in the ways of peace?"
"Each one of us, from the least to the greatest, including those called to govern nations, to respond: Yes, we want it!"
Outside St Peter's Square, a number of people, who held up Syrian flags and placards reading "Hands off Syria" and "Obama you don't have a dream, you have a nightmare", were barred from entering the vigil to keep with the nature of the religious service.
More than 100,000 people have been killed in two years of civil war between Assad's security forces and opposition forces.
According the UN figures released last week, the number of Syrians forced to seek shelter abroad since civil war began in March 2011 passed the 2 million mark with no sign of the outflow ending soon.
The UNHCR's statement comes as the US administration continues to beat war drums since last August 21st suspected chemical weapons attack near Damascus which killed more than 1300.
Dozens of vigils were also held across France on Saturday evening including a special vigil on the Montmartre hill in Paris where several hundred Catholics prayed and fasted inside the Sacre Coeur Basilica.
"If we respond to violence with violence we'll have World War Three, we'll never have peace," Odile Bernard, a 61-year-old Parisian teacher holding an olive branch, told Reuters.
Miles away in New York, Lennie Tallud, a clinical lab scientist visiting St Patrick's Cathedral, said the thought of military action against Syria was "very scary", supporting the idea of world prayer calling for peace.
Following the call by the Pontiff, similar services were held around the world, including in Al-Quds (Occupied East Jerusalem), Assisi and Milan in Italy, in Boston and Baghdad.
The Pope calls have found ears in the US after Archbishop Thomas Wenski of Miami has publicly expressed reservations about President Barack Obama's campaign for military action against Syria.
"As Congress debates a resolution authorizing military force in Syria, I urge you instead to support US leadership for peace. Only dialogue can save lives and bring about peace in Syria," Wenski said in a message sent to US members of congress.
Wenski is not the first religious leader to oppose the attacks.
Last August, Archbishop of Canterbury warned that a military intervention in the Syria conflict could have unforeseeable consequences across the Muslim world.
Al-Azhar, the highest seat of learning in the Sunni Muslim world, declared earlier in September its opposition to any US strikes on Syria, terming it as an aggression against the Arab and Islamic nation.
The Vatican service was also attended by a group of Italian Muslims.
"Praying for the intention of peace is something that can only help fraternity and, God willing, avoid more war," Yaha Pallavicini, a leader of Italy's Muslim community, told Reuters.
"As Muslims who want peace we have to work so that the values of faith and dialogue prevail over the destruction of peoples."
In his address, the pope stressed the power of prayer to change the world.
"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.
"Let everyone be moved to look into the depths of his or her conscience and listen to that word which says: Leave behind the self-interest that hardens your heart, overcome the indifference that makes your heart insensitive towards others, conquer your deadly reasoning, and open yourself to dialogue and reconciliation," he said.
His words struck a personal chord with Marina Verkotenh, a pilgrim from Russia.
"I think it's very important for all the people to unite here at this square and to bring together all our forces to unite and to pray, and also to bring attention to all the people who decide this question, these important questions about war and peace," she said.