Catholic Free Press

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  • Sep
  • 12

Prayers for Syria

Posted By September 12, 2013 | 12:51 pm | Lead Story #1

By Tanya Connor

“I think the world has prayed hard, because what has happened is a miracle.”
Father Miguel A. Pagán made that comment to The Catholic Free Press Wednesday, in the wake of Pope Francis’ call for prayer and fasting for peace, and subsequent statements by government officials that gave hope a U.S. military strike against Syria might be avoided.
Sept. 1, before praying the noon Angelus with the crowd in St. Peter’s Square, Pope Francis announced the peace vigil he subsequently led there Sept. 7.
He proclaimed Sept. 7 a “day of fasting and prayer for peace in Syria, the Middle East and throughout the world” for Catholics, and invited other Christians, members of other religions and all people of good will to participate in whatever way they could.
Father Pagán, director of the diocesan Hispanic Apostolate and pastor of St. Joan of Arc Parish in Worcester, was among local Christians responding to the pope’s call. He urged people to heed it –  at the annual patronal celebration of the Blessed Mother that Hispanics from around the diocese held Saturday in Worcester and at his parish Sunday.
After an ecumenical service at St. Patrick Parish in Whitinsville Saturday, a Syrian priest expressed gratitude for Pope Francis’ call – and to St. Patrick’s for heeding it.
Friday at a Cursillo movement gathering the spiritual director told his flock he had called the White House. He expressed hope the president too would heed the pope.
Alumni and a student of the College of the Holy Cross quoted popes in announcing tomorrow’s annual vigil to remove ROTC from the campus.
“His Holiness Francis must have felt the pain and agony of the Syrian Christians and Muslims,” Father Aram Stepanian told The Catholic Free Press Saturday.
“I appreciate His Holiness,” and the fact that St. Patrick’s opened its “doors for my people,” he said.
Father Stepanian, who said he was born and reared in Syria and still has family there, had just exited St. Patrick’s after the ecumenical service the parish held in response to the pope’s request.
Father Tomasz J. Borkowski, St. Patrick’s pastor, said the parish e-mailed the other Christian congregations in town, inviting them to participate.
“We have 12 churches in Whitinsville and we work very close with each other,” said Father Stepanian, archpriest and pastor of Soorp Asdvadzadzin Armenian Apostolic Church there.
He said Archbishop Oshagan Choloyan, prelate of the Eastern Prelacy of the Armenian Apostolic Church of America, also asked his people to pray for Syria.
St. Patrick’s service, which drew about 50 people, included laments about suffering and injustice, and prayers, Scripture readings and songs about peace.
“We pray that the international community and particularly the Congress and the president of the United States have the courage to respond to the killing of the innocent in Syria with non-violent desire to seek dialogue, reconciliation and ceasefire,” Father Borkowski said as he began the service that he and parishioner Paul Covino put together.
“The Gospel reading invites us to be a beacon of light in the midst of darkness, a sign of hope in the midst of suffering, and love where there is hatred, war and violence,” Father Borkowski said after the Beatitudes were read. “As we light these candles we are mindful that the darkness of this world can only be overcome by light – the light of God.”
Parishioner Kimberly Ekberg lit, from the paschal candle, large candles surrounding a globe. The congregation lit tapers from them and circled the altar, where they laid their hands on each other’s shoulders and concluded by praying the Our Father.
“I think it was absolutely beautiful,” St. Patrick’s parishioner Mary Beth Hay said afterwards. She said it was beautiful to see members of different churches come together.
“I think we shouldn’t wait for opportunities of distress to pray for peace; we should all come together as a community to pray for each other,” said fellow parishioner Annette Fernandez.
Similar points had been made at St. Paul Cathedral that morning. Hispanics from around the Diocese processed from St. Peter Central Catholic Elementary School to St. Paul’s for their annual celebration of the Blessed Mother.
“We have taken advantage of this event to pray … for the peace of Syria,” said Sister Rosa Maria Campos, of the Sisters Oblates of Divine Love, pastoral assistant at Blessed John Paul II Parish in Southbridge. She said some people who weren’t planning to come did so because of the pope’s call.
Bishop McManus said he told participants they were uniting their prayers, procession and Mass with the pope, invoking the Blessed Mother’s prayers for peace.
“I just think it’s a wonderful experience,” said Victoria Paulino, vice president of St. Paul’s Hispanic youth group.     “We’re all coming together as a community both in fasting for the conflict that’s happening in Syria and in celebration of our Mother Mary. It kind of shows that no matter how big the Catholic Church has gotten, no matter how spread out we are, we come together in prayer and fasting.  … In times of struggle, in times of celebration, we always come back together as a unified family to help each other.”
“It was a good day to start the day of fasting together as a community, admiring such a kind and peaceful heart – Mary,” said her sister Luisanna Paulino, the youth group’s president.
Father Pagán said the celebration, including lunch, was planned before the pope called for fasting, so he suggested participants choose another day to fast.
“The pope invited us to join him in this important pleading to God for the gift of peace,” he said. “The pope is not the only one who is supposed to pray.” He said he suggested praying daily the Prayer of St. Francis: “Make me an instrument of your peace.”
“That shapes us to incorporate the gift of peace into our lives and the dynamic of being instruments of peace to one another,” he said.
Sunday he told his congregation at St. Joan of Arc they could still join the call to fasting and prayer.
“Fasting makes our prayer complete, helps us surrender our hearts to the Lord,” he said. “War doesn’t bring peace. … Only Christ brings peace.”
Some Muslims embrace the philosophy of “an eye for an eye,” but Christians can’t be like that; they must be instruments of peace, he said.
He said Pope John Paul II had pleaded against going to war against Iraq. War was waged anyway and didn’t bring a better world, but many innocent lives were lost, he said.
Also talking about that was Father Robert A. Grattaroti, pastor of St. Joseph Parish in Charlton and spiritual director for the diocese’s Cursillo movement. He spoke to Cursillistas Friday at their monthly Ultreya at his church. The next night his parish held adoration in response to the pope’s call.
“I called the White House and got somebody live,” he said in his homily Friday. He spoke of a recent Time magazine cover that said President Barack Obama ran for president to get the United States out of wars, not into them.
Father Grattaroti said he told the White House he didn’t want President Obama to make the same mistake former President George W. Bush made. The priest recalled a Vatican official he knew telling him about imploring the president, on behalf of Pope John Paul II, not to wage war on Iraq. The official told the president he would not win the war, but it would increase terrorism, destabilize society and make many people hungry, Father Grattaroti said. But the United States invaded Iraq.
Father Grattaroti contrasted that response with that of President John F. Kennedy and Russian Premier Nikita Khrushchev during the Cuban missile crisis in 1962, when it looked like the United States and Russia might go to war with each other. Father Grattaroti said Pope John XXIII implored them to back off and they did.
He told the congregation they could call the White House at 202-456-1111 and also said their senators and representatives need to hear from them.
He spoke of something he saw on the internet telling people that certain stock would greatly increase in value with the onset of war. Some people make money on people killing people, and therefore want war, he lamented.
He noted that Scripture says to “love your enemies” and not to “render evil for evil.” He spoke of prayer and fasting to drive out demons and said they would offer Mass that night for peace in Syria and the Middle East, places made holy by Jesus’ presence.
The annual vigil against ROTC at Holy Cross also refers to the current situation. “War brings on war!” says a flier quoting Pope Francis and advertising the 20th annual Holy Cross Alumni Vigil for the removal of the Reserve Officers’ Training Corps from the college. The flier also quotes Pope John Paul II: “Do not follow leaders who train you to inflict death.”
“They shall beat their swords into plowshares … there will be no more training for war,” says a list of 99 alumni and a student asking for the removal of ROTC. The quote is from Isaiah 2:4, used on a statue of Isaiah breaking swords, which is by the College’s Dinand Library.
“We urge the administration to find ways to make the college affordable to all without ROTC,” the list says.
The vigil is being held on the steps of the Dinand Library from noon to 1 p.m. tomorrow, the Feast of the Exaltation of the Holy Cross.
Organizer Scott Schaeffer-Duffy, of the SS. Francis and Therese Catholic Worker in Worcester, said participants will hold a banner with a painting of the statue and the Isaiah quote and the words “No ROTC at Holy Cross.” He said they will also hold posters with quotes from Scripture, saints and popes.