A Day of Fasting and Prayer

A Day of Fasting and Prayer September 2, 2013

The pope’s Sunday Angelus message this week contained an important announcement: the proclamation of Saturday, September 7 as “a day of fasting and prayer for peace in Syria, the Middle East, and throughout the world.”

Here is his message in full, courtesy of Vatican Radio:

Dear Brothers and Sisters, Hello!

Today, dear brothers and sisters, I wish to make add my voice to the cry which rises up with increasing anguish from every part of the world, from every people, from the heart of each person, from the one great family which is humanity: it is the cry for peace! It is a cry which declares with force: we want a peaceful world, we want to be men and women of peace, and we want in our society, torn apart by divisions and conflict, that peace break out! War never again! Never again war! Peace is a precious gift, which must be promoted and protected.

There are so many conflicts in this world which cause me great suffering and worry, but in these days my heart is deeply wounded in particular by what is happening in Syria and anguished by the dramatic developments which are looming.

I appeal strongly for peace, an appeal which arises from the deep within me. How much suffering, how much devastation, how much pain has the use of arms carried in its wake in that martyred country, especially among civilians and the unarmed! I think of many children will not see the light of the future! With utmost firmness I condemn the use of chemical weapons: I tell you that those terrible images from recent days are burned into my mind and heart. There is a judgment of God and of history upon our actions which are inescapable! Never has the use of violence brought peace in its wake. War begets war, violence begets violence.

With all my strength, I ask each party in this conflict to listen to the voice of their own conscience, not to close themselves in solely on their own interests, but rather to look at each other as brothers and decisively and courageously to follow the path of encounter and negotiation, and so overcome blind conflict. With similar vigour I exhort the international community to make every effort to promote clear proposals for peace in that country without further delay, a peace based on dialogue and negotiation, for the good of the entire Syrian people.

May no effort be spared in guaranteeing humanitarian assistance to those wounded by this terrible conflict, in particular those forced to flee and the many refugees in nearby countries. May humanitarian workers, charged with the task of alleviating the sufferings of these people, be granted access so as to provide the necessary aid.

What can we do to make peace in the world? As Pope John said, it pertains to each individual to establish new relationships in human society under the mastery and guidance of justice and love (cf. John XXIII, Pacem in Terris, [11 April 1963]: AAS 55, [1963], 301-302). All men and women of good will are bound by the task of pursuing peace. I make a forceful and urgent call to the entire Catholic Church, and also to every Christian of other confessions, as well as to followers of every religion and to those brothers and sisters who do not believe: peace is a good which overcomes every barrier, because it belongs [to] all of humanity!

I repeat forcefully: it is neither a culture of confrontation nor a culture of conflict which builds harmony within and between peoples, but rather a culture of encounter and a culture of dialogue; this is the only way to peace.

May the plea for peace rise up and touch the heart of everyone so that they may lay down their weapons and be let themselves be led by the desire for peace.

To this end, brothers and sisters, I have decided to proclaim for the whole Church on 7 September next, the vigil of the birth of Mary, Queen of Peace, a day of fasting and prayer for peace in Syria, the Middle East, and throughout the world, and I also invite each person, including our fellow Christians, followers of other religions and all men of good will, to participate, in whatever way they can, in this initiative.

On 7 September, in Saint Peter’s Square, here, from 19:00 until 24:00, 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 ask all the local churches, in addition to fasting, that they gather to pray for this intention.

Let us ask Mary to help us to respond to violence, to conflict and to war, with the power of dialogue, reconciliation and love. She is our mother: may she help us to find peace; all of us are her children! Help us, Mary, to overcome this most difficult moment and to dedicate ourselves each day to building in every situation an authentic culture of encounter and peace. [Mary], Queen of Peace, pray for us!

Building on Pope Francis’ message, his Secretary for Justice and Peace, Monsignor Mario Toso, further commented today on the futility of the unending spiral of violence, urging Catholics around the world to call for diplomatic solutions.

I hope to consider more carefully the implications of the Vatican’s message for American Catholics (the noun here being more important than the adjective, and even in some tension with it) in a later post.  But I would hope that, however we read these implications, we would all follow our Holy Father’s call to fasting and prayer for peace this coming Saturday to the furthest extent that we are able.  I plan to participate in this day of fasting and prayer as a practicing Catholic, and I echo Pope Francis’ invitation to all people of faith and of good will, and especially to my brothers and sisters in the Catholic and Christian faith, to do the same.

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  • Kurt

    I intend to follow the Holy Father’s call to prayer and fasting. I earnestly hope for peace in Syria and the safety of all its citizens, Christian, Muslim and others. With the use of chemical weapons, the dictator Assad has shown himself to be a barbarian and unworthy to lead a nation. He and his regime are now the moral inferiors of this nation and every other decent nation. Yet while their moral inferiority is clear, what course of action is best is very unclear. Doing nothing in response to Assad’s use of chemical weapons should not be an option, but what the good (or least bad) options are is a hard question. The President was wise to involve Congress in this.

    Hopefully Congress will have a civil discussion and not engage in partisan games. However, until they return from their recess, prayer and fasting seem the best course —well, the only course for me, as I am denied representation in Congress.

  • trellis smith

    There are no effective power options regarding Syria at this point in time. The bad actors in this civil war are equally vile and it could be argued that the opposition will participate in a revengeful bloodbath as the various communities have devolved to where the religion is the uniform of the combatants, each held hostage to the evil of their defenders.

    The call to Congress is nothing more than the realization by the Administration that its hands are tied as it does not desire the demise of the regime because of the bloody chaos that will ensue and yet wants very much its removal for the bloody chaos this regime has caused. In political and Machiavellian terms Hezbollah fighting Al qaeda may serve the national interest in much the same way as Iran was fighting Iraq. A symbolic use of force sends no message worth sending.

    Doing nothing (violent) is the power of God. The call to negotiations by the Pope is the only way to isolate the bad actors. Letting the World Court deal with the war criminal Assad in its time may be all that can be done for now and more carefully positioning ourselves for more effective response in the future.
    Also I don’t think that in this issue there is much tension between the adjective and the noun of the American Catholic, as national interest and the Pope’s call for cessation of feeding violence seem to dovetail.

    • Julia Smucker

      You may have a point there, in the sense that violence tends to undermine even the short-sighted interests it serves by providing a handy excuse for retaliation (a point I actually made recently). I have to wonder why Assad seems to be inviting a strike by his taunting of Obama; this is either very foolhardy or very shrewd.

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  • I also wish to participate in the prayer and fasting that Pope Francis is calling for. I hope that our local parish will organize something here in our area so that I can get together with more Catholics who have the same intentions as mine. I earnestly pray for peace in Syria and for the whole world. May God protect us all especially the children who are caught in the war.

  • trellis smith

    The use of these weapons is of a such a qualitative nature of indiscriminate violence that i doubt that Assad can remain in power in the long term especially if the evidence is irrefutable. Russian may also have to face the consequences if it doesn’t advance the issue of this use of chemical weapons.
    I don’t think the president is paying much attention to the taunts and threats of Assad which are meant more for internal consumption. The actual use of these weapons were more than enough provocation to question the sanity of the Assad regime whose only goal is self preservation unless there was some existential threat emanating from the Damascus suburb and Kerry suggests there was.

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