VATICAN CITY — Pope Francis on Sunday condemned the use of chemical weapons, but he called for a negotiated settlement of the civil war in Syria, and announced he would lead a worldwide day of fasting and prayer for peace there on Sept. 7.
Francis abandoned the traditional religious theme of the weekly papal appearance to crowds in St. Peter's Square and instead spoke entirely, and with anguish, about Syria.
"My heart is deeply wounded by what is happening in Syria and anguished by the dramatic developments" on the horizon, Francis said, in an apparent reference to the U.S. and France considering a military strike to punish the Syrian regime for a chemical weapons attack.
Francis reiterated previous appeals for all sides in the civil war to put down their arms and "listen to the voice of their conscience and with courage take up the way of negotiations."
With tens of thousands of people in the square applauding his words, Francis delivered his strongest remarks yet to express his horror at the use of chemical weapons.