In light of recent incidents of violence and racial tension in communities across the U.S. and the world, Archbishop Joseph Kurtz, the president of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, has asked dioceses to unite in a “Day of Prayer for Peace in Our Communities” on Friday, Sept. 9. Can you shed some light on this effort?
Everyone knows the last several months have been a time of enormous pain as we have witnessed the deaths of so many. All bishops of the U.S. are asking Catholics to observe Sept. 9 as a day of prayer for peace and unity in our country and in the world. The bishops also have established a task force, led by Archbishop Wilton Gregory of Atlanta, to help identify best practices in nurturing an open, honest and civil dialogue on the issues of race relations, restorative justice, mental health, economic opportunity and gun violence. We in Louisiana know all too well the tensions that exist. There was the shooting of Alton Sterling during a police stop in Baton Rouge, and several weeks later three Baton Rouge officers were killed by a lone gunman. There was the killing of five Dallas police officers who were protecting a protest march, and there was another police shooting in Minnesota that was captured on videotape and received worldwide headlines. In July, an elderly French priest was murdered at the altar by a member of ISIS. Violence and warfare continue to threaten the lives of innocent people. I just read last week of a brave group of Discalced Carmelite nuns who live in the Syrian city of Aleppo, who reported that bombs are falling all round them in the civil war between the Syrian government, backed by Russia, and the opposing rebels. Sister Anne-Francoise, a French nun, said when the Syrian government’s troops try to prevent the rebels from entering Aleppo, the bombing raids come very close to their convent. The four Carmelite nuns have taken in a number of refugee families, and they are supporting other families with almost no resources. Sister Anne-Francoise said, “We have no water, no electricity and the fighting is continuing incessantly. How can we abandon these people in their suffering? Our presence is important for them. … The diplomatic solutions have not worked. We simply pray to the Lord that this war may stop.” We must join our prayer with hers.
It’s sobering to think of the innocent lives lost.
We tend to think of martyrs as people who lived centuries ago, but there are martyrs almost every day in our current time. And, it’s not just these dramatic killings that are taking place but the daily murders in our cities. We believe prayer can change the hearts of others so that they become more loving, but we also pray for ourselves that God will remove from our hearts any taint of violence or racism.
You conducted an interfaith prayer service for peace last week at St. Louis Cathedral with faith leaders from many different religions and faiths.
I thought the prayer service was very impressive and apropos. We prayed for peace and for ourselves. We asked God to “let there be peace on earth and to let it begin with me.” There was a very good representation of faith leaders, but I was disappointed in the number of people who attended. There were only about 100 people in a cathedral that seats nearly a thousand. So often I hear people say we have to do something. Well, prayer is something we all can do, and I wish more people would have come to ask God for peace.
How can Catholics enhance their prayer life?
Prayer is not just “putting in the time.” It is responding to God’s invitation to consciously be in his presence and to know his loving dreams for us and the world. Finding that time in a busy world is so important. Prayer allows us to desire a more intimate relationship with God. St. Ignatius of Loyola reminds us that when we really don’t have a desire for a deeper relationship, we have to go to God and ask for that desire. He calls it giving us the desire for the desire. That’s very difficult because technology is always right by our side. So many of us are not used to spending quiet time. When I go to my chapel in the morning to pray, I leave my cell phone in my bedroom because otherwise there is a temptation to see who might be calling or who has left a message that might be important. We need that quiet to speak – and listen – to God.