Friday, October 27, 2023

Ahead of today's Day of Prayer, Fasting and Penance, we recall the Pope's appeals for peace during his pontificate


Pope Francis has invited everyone to join him in prayer for peace on FridayPope Francis has invited everyone to join him in prayer for peace on Friday  (Vatican Media)

Pope Francis' appeals for peace in a world torn by war

As we observe a Day of Prayer, Fasting, and Penance for Peace, especially in the Holy Land, we recall various occasions when Pope Francis has spiritually mobilized Christians to pray for the gift of fraternity, as he continues to denounce war as "a defeat for humanity".

By Antonella Palermo

Throughout the ten years of his pontificate, Pope Francis has repeatedly called on believers and non-believers alike to dedicate days of prayer and fasting for the precious gift of peace.

Fasting and prayer: a combination where the one feeds into the other, reciprocally, creating a break in the daily routine of life and encouraging a posture that is open to acceptance.

Those who fast and pray experience a condition of voluntary weakness that is a form of disarmament; an awareness of the suffering of others that stimulates empathy and fraternity; a sense of deprivation that overcomes self-centredness and invites us to connection with others, rather than conflict.

Prayer for peace in Syria: stop the noise of weapons (7 September 2013)

In 2012, the civil war in Syria had become radicalized: the rebel forces were permeated by an extremist Salafist component, and the conflict spread. On 7 September 2013, Pope Francis announced what we remember today as the first Day of Prayer and Fasting for Peace “in the beloved Syrian nation, in the Middle East, throughout the world!”

During the vigil in St. Peter's Square, thousands of people turned their thoughts to the same region that still today suffers the consequences of destruction, suffering, and death.

“God’s world is a world where everyone feels responsible for the other, for the good of the other,” the Pope recalled. “But when harmony is broken, a metamorphosis occurs: the brother who is to be cared for and loved becomes an adversary to fight, to kill.”

He then decried the fact that “we have perfected our weapons, our conscience has fallen asleep, and we have sharpened our ideas to justify ourselves.” And he cried out, “Violence and war lead only to death, they speak of death! ... War always marks the failure of peace, it is always a defeat for humanity.”

South Sudan and the Democratic Republic of Congo: Say no to violence (23 February 2018)

It was the first Friday of Lent. The Pope and the Roman Curia had concluded the Spiritual Exercises on what had been conceived as a special day of fasting and prayer for the South Sudanese and Congolese peoples. It would be five years before Pope Francis could undertake his much-desired apostolic journey, but the Pontiff’s concern for these two countries was already being expressed in the invitation to sow seeds of peace where civil war and political instability instead sowed death, insecurity, and terror.

In calling for the Day of prayer and fasting, the Pope also invited non-Catholics and non-Christians to find appropriate ways to “concretely say ‘no’ to violence.” He insisted that “victories obtained through violence are false victories; while working for peace is good for everyone!”

On the day itself, Pope Francis turned his thoughts in a particular way to “women who are the victims of violence in war zones” and “children who suffer from conflicts in which they have no part, but which rob them of their childhood and at times of life itself.”

He denounced the denial of the mass murder of women and children as hypocritical, saying “Here war shows its most horrid face.” He then prayed that the Lord might instill in rulers “a spirit which is noble, upright, steadfast, and courageous in seeking peace through dialogue and negotiation.”

Rebuilding Lebanon, for the common good (4 September 2020)

A month after the tragedy of the explosion at the port of the city of Beirut, Pope Francis called for a universal day of fasting and prayer, on 4 September, to be dedicated to Lebanon, the Land of Cedars, as a sign of solidarity. on 4 September, to the Land of Cedars.

Announcing the day at the General Audience on 2 September, Pope Francis recalled the words of Saint John Paul II in 1989: “Lebanon cannot be abandoned in its solitude.” In this case, even though there was no ongoing conflict, the country's political, economic, and social stability was at risk. Considering that tolerance, respect, coexistence, and pluralism have shaped Lebanese society, making it unique in the region, Pope Francis said, “For the good of the country and the world, we cannot allow this heritage to be lost.”

He encouraged the Lebanese people to continue to hope and find the strength necessary to start again. At the same time, the Pope called on politicians and religious leaders “to commit themselves with sincerity and openness to the work of rebuilding, setting aside all partisan interests and looking to the common good and the future of the nation.” And he exhorted the international community to support the country to help it emerge from the serious crisis.

On 4 September, Cardinal Parolin would represent the Pope in the Middle Eastern country bearing the Pope’s message so that Lebanon might realize “its vocation of fraternity.”

The appeal for the sorely tried Afghan people (29 August 2021)

At the Angelus of the last Sunday in August two years ago, at the height of the crisis in Afghanistan, Pope Francis addressed an appeal “to intensify your prayer and practice fasting. Prayer and fasting, prayer and penance. This is the moment to do so.” The Pontiff recommended that the Asian country, which was experiencing terrible weeks with the violent return to power of the Taliban, ask the Lord for mercy and forgiveness. “I’m speaking seriously,” he specified at that point, expressing his conviction that praying and fasting are effective if observed with sincerity of faith, which should not be taken lightly.

A particular date was therefore not announced in which to gather in this way, but the people of God were mobilized so as not to show themselves indifferent to a population so sorely tried.

And in this case, as well, the Pope's apprehension went above all to the women and children, to whom he asked not to tire of sending their help and welcome. The Community of Sant’Egidio, which met in Rome on 15 September in the heart of Trastevere according to the Pontiff’s intentions, responded with particular concern to the Pope’s invitation, knowing that fasting and prayer are not anachronistic or merely spiritualistic experiences.

Peace in Ukraine: God wants us to be brothers, not enemies (2 March 2022)

“May the Queen of Peace preserve the world from the madness of war,” Pope Francis prayed at the General Audience of 23 February 2022, when the situation in Ukraine became especially threatening. The Pope’s call was to live Ash Wednesday, 2 March, under the banner of prayer and fasting for peace in the country.

His words, however, were tragically prophetic: the day after the Pope’s appeal, the Russian army launched a full-scale invasion of Ukraine.. “I would like to appeal to those with political responsibility to examine their consciences seriously before God, who is the God of peace and not of war; who is the Father of all, not just of some, who wants us to be brothers and not enemies,” the Pope said. “I pray that all the parties involved refrain from any action that would cause even more suffering to the people, destabilizing coexistence between nations and bringing international law into disrepute.”

Many more heart-rending appeals would follow. And God's people do not tire of keeping vigil and pleading, still, for mercy, conversion, and reconciliation.

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