Pope Francis announces global day of fasting and prayer for Syria
The pope has called for all Christians, non-Christian believers, and all people of goodwill to spend Saturday fasting and praying for peace.
During his Angelus address on Sunday, Pope Francis said, “We will gather in prayer and in a spirit of penance, invoking God’s great gift of peace upon the beloved nation of Syria and upon each situation of conflict and violence around the world. Humanity needs to see these gestures of peace and to hear words of hope and peace.”
“I renew the invitation to the whole Church to live this day intensely,” Pope Francis added.
The Vatican has organized a vigil of prayer at St. Peter’s Piazza for the evening of September 7, the Vigil of the Feast of the Nativity of Our Lady, the Virgin Mary, who is venerated by Catholics under the title, Queen of Peace.
Starting at 7 p.m. Rome time, the pope will lead a recitation of the rosary, which will be followed by Eucharistic adoration, scripture readings and a papal blessing.
Pope Francis will also directly address the crowd and throughout the event, priests will be available to hear confessions.
In response to threats by some Western countries to engage in a punitive bombing of Syrian targets, Pope Francis said on Sunday, “My heart is deeply wounded by what is happening in Syria and anguished by the dramatic developments.” He repeated his call for the ending of hostilities in Syria.
He deplored the use of chemical weapons in the conflict, saying, “I tell you that those terrible images from recent days are burned into my mind and heart.”
“There is the judgment of God, and also the judgment of history, upon our actions,” he said, “from which there is no escaping.”
But Francis also condemned the escalation of the war, saying, “Never has the use of violence brought peace in its wake. War begets war, violence begets violence.”
He called on all parties to “follow the path of encounter and negotiation and so overcome blind conflict.”
Fides, the news service of the Congregation for the Evangelization of Peoples, reported that the Grand Mufti of Syria’s Sunni Muslims, Ahmad Badreddin Hassoun, approached the papal nuncio in Damascus and requested permission to attend the event.
Fides said that even if he cannot attend, the mufti called on his followers to pray for peace, “in communion and simultaneously with the Pope.”
In India, Bishop Felix Machado of Vasai, the President of the Commission for Ecumenical and Interreligious Dialogue of the “Federation of Asian Bishops’ Conferences, expressed the solidarity of both Hindus and Christians with the pope’s initiative. The message, Bishop Machado told Fides, “was welcomed with joy and enthusiasm by Christians in India, and now has spread to the leaders and the Hindu communities. Some Hindu leaders called me to express solidarity and to ensure fasting and prayer in the Hindu temples.”
Speaking to Fides from Damascus, Syrian MP, Greek - Catholic Maria Saadeh, said, “All Syrians, Christians and non-Christians, hope that prayer and fasting serve to stop violence, violations of human dignity, announced military attacks. As Syrian Christians, we share the heart and spirit of the Pope. We join him, thank him and hope he can help us.”
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“A future of peace in Syria is not just the responsibility of Syria but also of the international community and Europe. The Holy See knows our culture well and can support our efforts for peace, to stop violence . We need to ask all countries to stop violence and war. We call on the United States not to promote a military action, because it is illegal and the whole world recognizes it,” Saadeh said.
The heads of the Catholic Church in the Middle East announced today they would be participating and have invited all Christians there to join in the observances, and to pray for peace in both Syria and Egypt.
Auxiliary Bishop of the Latin Patriarchate of Jerusalem, William Shomali told Vatican Radio, “We took very seriously this wish of his Holiness. The Catholics of Jerusalem will meet at Gethsemane Church on Saturday evening at 8:30 p.m. for an hour of adoration. We invited all the Catholic community of Jerusalem, even the non-Catholic communities – some of them will participate. This is the wish of the Holy Father also.”
Observances in Jerusalem will include a prayer vigil at the basilica of followed by a candlelight procession in the Garden of Olives. Vatican Radio says that in addition the Crypt of the Armenian Catholic Church at the fourth station of the Via Dolorosa will also remain open for private and silent prayer from 7 p.m. until midnight Saturday.
Bishop Shomali said that around the Holy Land, Catholic parishes are organizing similar prayer vigils, and both the Orthodox and Islamic communities are involved.
“The faithful will go to the Islamic club in Ramallah with candles in procession and Muslims will join them until they reach the Latin Catholic church. In this way, they are including with them non-Christians because prayer is not only for Catholics. It is for everyone.”
He added that this was the first time Catholics, Orthodox, and Muslims have organized a common prayer vigil for peace.
“We prayed in the past for peace but not in this way, where we are united to all the Catholic churches in the world. So this unity and communion is something special and the emotional call done by his Holiness is also special,” he said.