I wonder if the most significant and memorable event of the Year of Faith (which draws to a close on November 24th ), might have been the day of prayer and fasting for peace in Syria and the Middle East this past Saturday. With only a week’s notice, Pope Francis directed the entire Church (all 1.2 billion of us), to pray for peaceful and non-violent resolution of the civil war in Syria, which has already claimed 100,000 lives and forced an estimated 2 million refugees to flee the country.
In calling for this day of prayer and fasting, Pope Francis condemned the use of chemical weapons and their possession, cautioned against any escalation of the violence or widening of the war and called for a ceasefire and urged all parties to seek a political and not a military solution to the crisis.
None of which is unexpected coming from the Vatican. The Holy See (and by extension, the Catholic Church) can be relied upon to always recommend peaceful rather than a violent solutions to international conflicts and disputes.
But in his call to prayer and fasting, Pope Francis spoke of the moral duty of every person of good will to pursue peace. In his announcement, he wrote:
“All men and women of good will are bound by the task of pursing peace. I make a forceful and urgent call to the entire Catholic Church, and also to every Christian or other confessions, as well as to the 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.”
He went onto say: “ I repeat forcefully: it is neither a culture of confrontation nor a culture of conflict that 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 they may lay down their weapons and let themselves be led by the desire for peace.”
But then, building on the foundation of a shared humanity and our ability using reason to arrive at natural truth (in this case, that we bound as human beings to pursue peace in every situation, he became a powerful evangelist.
September 7th was a powerful act of witness to Jesus Christ and to the way of life that he calls us to live as his disciples. On our knees we asked God to convert and to change our hearts and the hearts of all those who have taken up arms and we appealed in prayer for all those in need and for an increase in our own love and care for the poor and the dispossessed of Syria and the Middle East.
At the same time, by gathering to pray, we were, despite our own frailty and sinfulness, witnesses to the transforming and incandescent love of God, revealed most fully and perfectly in the Person of Jesus, which illumines the darkness of sin, suffering and death. His light, his truth, his peace and his love, embodied and incarnated in the earthen vessels of Christians and all those who seek dialogue, reconciliation and peace, are a shining beacon of hope for those who are hopeless and cynical and in despair.
Let us entrust ourselves and each other to our loving God, for whom nothing is impossible, and may the peaceful witness of our lives invite all men and women to faith in Christ, our Savior and our Hope.
Mary, Queen of Peace, pray for Syria, pray for us.
(The detail of the face of Christ is from an icon by the 20th century Russian iconographer, Leonid Ouspenski. The icon of Mary is the Syrian icon of Our Lady of Saidnaya.)