Assad sends Pope message, contents unknown

Pope Francis before a mass vigil for prayer for peace in Syria, in St. Peter's square at the Vatican, on Sept. 7 2013.
Andreas Solaro

The Vatican announced President Bashar al-Assad sent Pope Francis a private message via a delegation that outlined a position of the Syrian government, though exactly what the message contained is unknown.

"The delegation brought a message from President Assad for the Holy Father and illustrated the position of the Syrian government," a statement from the Vatican said on Saturday.

The announcement comes after Joseph Sweid, a Syrian state minister, spoke with Archbishop Pietro Parolin, the pope's secretary of state, and foreign minister Archbishop Dominique Mamberti.

Pope Francis had before commented on Syria's civil war - a war that has killed more than 100,000 people since March 2011 and displaced millions - and has for some time shown savage signs of sectarian bloodshed and increased involvement from radical Islamist groups.

In September the Pope made an appeal to avoid escalating Syria's war, pleading for world leaders to help pull the world out of a "spiral of sorrow and death." Before that, he had called military involvement in Syria "a futile pursuit," and led the world's Catholic believers in a prayer.

"Violence and war lead only to death, they speak of death! Violence and war are the language of death!" Francis said