VATICAN CITY (CNS) — As threats of military intervention against Syria escalate and the country’s future remains uncertain, a U.S. cardinal said that, no matter what transpires, prayer is urgently needed.

Cardinal Edwin F. O’Brien, grand master of the Knights of the Holy Sepulchre, said that “whatever happens, if there is going to be peace in Syria and anywhere, prayer has to be a part of it.”

The cardinal spoke Sept. 5 during a Vatican news conference presenting the chivalric order’s Sept. 10-12 consultative meeting that will see a revision of its statutes and its Sept. 13-15 pilgrimage to Rome as part of the Year of Faith. The order, which has members in 35 countries, particularly in North America and Western Europe, supports the pastoral and educational work of the church in the Holy Land.


When asked about the threats of military intervention against Syria, Cardinal O’Brien said he hoped “that whatever we do will contribute to peace in that part of the world.”

“I think our Holy Father spoke very forcefully and convincingly on Sunday of the need for prayer,” he said, referring to Pope Francis’ announcement that Sept. 7 would be a day of prayer and fasting for peace in Syria.

The cardinal, who once headed the U.S. Archdiocese for the Military Services, said the order was taking on the prayer initiative “as a very serious and important responsibility, to promote prayer among our members and throughout the Christian world and beyond.”

Archbishop Antonio Franco, who served for six years as the Vatican representative in Israel, Cyprus and the Palestinian territories, told reporters that, despite the church’s concerted efforts to prevent the emigration of the region’s Christians, “the difficulties are real and, unfortunately, many have abandoned and are gradually abandoning” their homelands.

Christians are suffering in the same ways the general population is, and their religious beliefs are not the main cause for the difficult plight they find themselves in, he said.

The general situation for everyone in the Middle East, especially in the Palestinian territories, “is one of uncertainty, lack of mobility, economic difficulties, and the difficulty of a situation in which fear reigns and there is no peace,” he said.

Such instability means people cannot plan for the future, and that is what pushes people to emigrate, Archbishop Franco said.

He said the continual exodus of Christians is also rooted in the problems of being a minority “in economic and social situations.”

“There is a certain kind of discrimination in that they can’t access certain levels of social standing” because of cultural factors, he said.

“But there is no particular difficulty because a person is Christian,” the archbishop said.