Quoting Pope Francis, “Prayer is the meek and holy force to oppose the diabolical force of hatred, terrorism and war,” Father Zac Povis told those gathered to pray the Rosary at the Cathedral Basilica of Saint Louis on Oct. 27.
“We join with our holy father, Pope Francis, and all believers in the Holy Land and around the world in interceding with the God of peace, that He might intervene and bring an end to the conflict in and around Israel,” Father Povis said before beginning the Sorrowful Mysteries.
Archbishop Mitchell T. Rozanski celebrated the midday Mass on Oct. 27 to answer Pope Francis’ call for a day of prayer, fasting and penance for peace in the world, particularly in the Middle East, where fighting between Israel and Hamas ignited Oct. 7. At the Vatican, Pope Francis presided over evening prayers for peace, which included Gospel readings, the Rosary and eucharistic adoration and Benediction.
“Pope Francis calls the universal Church to this day, knowing that in prayer and in fasting, we are in solidarity with our brothers and sisters who are suffering because of this conflict, with those who have had to move from their homes, with those who have witnessed their homes destroyed or family members murdered,” Archbishop Rozanski said in his homily.
We know that God is the source of all peace, Archbishop Rozanski said. “So we raise our voices in prayer to God, asking for that peace that seems so elusive to us, so far beyond our own abilities, but yet a peace that we know God wills for us.”
Ann Frey of Denver, Colorado, attended the Oct. 27 Mass at the cathedral basilica while visiting St. Louis. “Peace is extremely important, all around the world. And we need faith and people praying for peace to hopefully see the world turn around,” she said.
“It’s hard not to have (the Holy Land) on your heart and mind right now — it needs to be,” Frey said. “I guess I’m thankful that I have this faith that wants to have peace, regardless of where it’s happening.”
The worldwide day of prayer for peace made Alice Kempel, of the Diocese of Peoria, Illinois, think not just of the Holy Land but also of people closer to home who are struggling with difficult situations, she said.
“It’s not just violence that we need peace to resolve; it’s personal peace,” Kempel said.
‘How Christ encounters people’
Besides prayer and fasting, one way Catholics can work for peace is by loving our neighbors here at home, said Brother Ephrem Upart, OP, a Dominican brother and intern in the archdiocesan Office of Ecumenical and Interreligious Affairs.
Brother Ephrem grew up in a multi-religious family that includes secular Jews who immigrated from the Soviet Union, devout Muslims, members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints and Catholics. Simply reaching out to people you know whose communities are affected by large-scale events can be an important act of love, he said.
“I still have family in Israel, so that’s something that the brothers at the priory have asked me about,” he said. “Just check in with people. Reaching out to the people in those communities is very important because it makes them realize that people do care. It’s not just the media, a viral hashtag — it’s this person that I see every day. It’s my friend, checking in with me, asking, ‘hey, do you want to order out tonight? Do you want a hug? Do you want to chat and get coffee?’ It’s how discipleship happens. That’s how Christ encounters people.”
When James Fowlkes-Comninellis thinks of interfaith friendships in St. Louis, he thinks about Christmas Day, he said.
“Every year for many years, the Jewish and Muslim communities have done a day of service on Christmas. It’s not their holiday, but they understand that a lot of the Christian services shut down on Christmas Day. So they go around to the Christian charities and say, ‘Hey, we’re not celebrating on Christmas, so we would love to volunteer to fill in some of the gaps while you celebrate your holiday,’” he said. “There’s a lot of good things that happen in St. Louis.”
The Interfaith Partnership of Greater St. Louis helps foster these relationships among faith leaders and their congregations. After the attacks started in Israel and Gaza, “We called our Jewish partners and said, ‘how are you doing?’ We just listened,” Fowlkes-Comninellis said. “Same thing with our Muslim partners. We called Ghazala (Hayat) at the Islamic Foundation,” a mosque that has a large Middle Eastern population, “and said, ‘how are you doing? How’s your community?’ And just listened. And then if there’s something we can figure out to do to help, we will. But sometimes just listening, just reaching out, just makes people feel heard and validated and cared for.”
When you reach out to listen, “You’re preaching the Gospel by doing that,” Brother Ephrem added. “This is very much being Jesus to people. They see the light of Christ in us when we reach out to them.”
The interfaith partnership’s events, including visits to various places of worship, create opportunities for people of different faith backgrounds to get to know each other as real people, Fowlkes-Comninellis said — which is essential.
“Have some real human interactions in these local communities, not stuff you see on the news. When you think Islam, don’t think Hamas — think Nur masjid (the St. Louis Islamic Center), down the road. Come visit Temple Emanuel in West County,” Fowlkes-Comninellis said. “Come have some experience of the St. Louis Muslim or St. Louis Jewish communities.”
Having established relationships with people of other faiths also helps keep peace and understanding at the forefront during world events like the attacks in Israel and Gaza, Fowlkes-Comninellis said. Because of the friendships formed through the interfaith partnership, St. Louis Jewish and Muslim leaders, along with the organization’s faith-diverse cabinet, were able to collaborate on a joint statement shortly after fighting began in October.
“The Cabinet declares that regardless of differing views regarding the conflict and its causes, all human beings should be assured of safety from violence. Therefore, we unite in prayers for peace, in prayers that the parties will work to resolve their differences without further harm to innocent civilians, and in prayers that all people be able to return safely to their homes,” the statement said.
“Also, we declare a commitment that we will not permit the conflict to create divisions within our own community. We recognize that this commitment demands much of us, but it is essential if we are to assure that we remain at peace with one another.”
Pope Francis’ Prayer for Peace
Given at St. Peter’s Basilica on Oct. 27
Mary, look at us! We stand here before you. You are our Mother, and you know our struggles and our hurts. Queen of Peace, you suffer with us and for us, as you see so many of your children suffering from the conflicts and wars that are tearing our world apart.
This is a dark hour. This is a dark hour, Mother. In this dark hour, we look to you, and in the light of your countenance we entrust ourselves and our problems to your maternal Heart, which knows our anxieties and fears. How great was your concern when there was no place for Jesus at the inn! How great was your fear when you fled in haste to Egypt because Herod sought to kill Him! How great was your anguish before you found Him in the Temple! Yet, Mother, amid those trials, you showed your strength, you acted boldly: you trusted in God and responded to concern with tender care, to fear with love, to anguish with acceptance. Mother, you did not step back, but at decisive moments you always took initiative: with haste you visited Elizabeth; at the wedding feast of Cana you prompted Jesus’ first miracle; in the Upper Room you kept the disciples united. And when, on Calvary, a sword pierced your heart, Mother, by your humility and strength you kept alive the hope of Easter through the night of sorrow.
Now, Mother, once more take the initiative for us, in these times rent by conflicts and laid waste by the fire of arms. Turn your eyes of mercy towards our human family, which has strayed from the path of peace, preferred Cain to Abel and lost the ability to see each other as brothers and sisters dwelling in a common home. Intercede for our world, in such turmoil and great danger. Teach us to cherish and care for life – each and every human life! – and to repudiate the folly of war, which sows death and eliminates the future.
Mary, how many times have you come, urging prayer and repentance. Yet, caught up in our own needs and distracted by the things of this world, we have turned a deaf ear to your appeal. In your love for us, you never abandon us, Mother. Lead us by the hand. Lead us by the hand and bring us to conversion; help us once again to put God first. Help us to preserve unity in the Church and to be artisans of communion in our world. Make us realize once more the importance of the role we play; strengthen our sense of responsibility for the cause of peace as men and women called to pray, worship, intercede and make reparation for the whole human race.
By ourselves, Mother, we cannot succeed; without your Son, we can do nothing. But you bring us back to Jesus, who is our Peace. Therefore, Mother of God and our Mother, we come before you and we seek refuge in your Immaculate Heart. Mother of mercy, we appeal for mercy! Queen of Peace, we appeal for peace! Touch the hearts of those imprisoned by hatred; convert those who fuel and foment conflict. Dry the tears of children – at this hour, so many are weeping! – be present to those who are elderly and alone; strengthen the wounded and the sick; protect those forced to leave their lands and their loved ones; console the crestfallen; awaken new hope.
To you we entrust and consecrate our lives and every fibre of our being, all that we possess and all that we are, forever. To you we consecrate the Church, so that in her witness to the love of Jesus before the world, she may be a sign of harmony and an instrument of peace. To you we consecrate our world, to you we consecrate especially those countries and regions at war.
Your faithful people call you the dawn of salvation; Mother, grant that glimmers of light may illumine the dark night of conflict. Dwelling-place of the Holy Spirit, inspire the leaders of nations to seek paths of peace. Queen of all peoples, reconcile your children, seduced by evil, blinded by power and hate. You, who are close to all, shorten our distances. You, who have compassion on everyone, teach us to care for one another. You, who reveal the Lord’s tender love, make us witnesses of His consolation and peace. Mother, Queen of Peace, pour forth into our hearts God’s gift of harmony. Amen.