Vatican City, Sep 7, 2013 (CNA/EWTN News) -
In calling for a day of fasting and prayer for peace on Sept. 7, Pope Francis is following a long tradition of Popes showing a deep commitment to peace.
There is “an evolution of the theology of peace” from the pontificate of Pope Pius IX to that of Pope Francis, says Jesuit Fr. Francesco Occhetta, of Italy’s “La Civiltà Cattolica” review.
From the mid- to late-1800s, Pope Pius IX actively promoted a culture of peace, which also gave an impetus to ecumenical dialogue. His efforts led to the foundation of several European magazines including “La Civiltà Cattolica” as well as Great Britain’s “The Month” and “Etudes” of France.
During his time as Pope, Catholics and Protestants collaborated to found a school in Rome to study international law and train international mediators committed to conflict resolution.
Pope Leo XIII, Pius IX’s successor, took the message on the road when he took part in a conference on disarmament at The Hague on May 18, 1899. There, he made a proposal for “political peace.” Some of the 26 nations that took part in the conference acknowledged the Pope as a conflict mediator because of his “universal paternity.”
Later, on Aug. 1, 1917, Pope Benedict XV issued his famous peace plan, in which he defined war as “useless massacre.”
During the Second World War, Pope Pius XII appealed for peace in a message broadcast by Vatican Radio. This message is considered by Msgr. Mario Toso, the current secretary of the Pontifical Council for Justice and Peace, to be a “true encyclical on the social teaching of the Church.”
It is one of the most famous Pius XII statements and it was made on Aug. 24, 1939, just a few hours before the Nazi invasion of Poland.
“Nothing is lost with peace. Everything can be lost with war,” Pope Pius XII stressed in that statement.
Along with its diplomatic efforts, the Church also called for prayer to achieve peace.
In asking that Sept. 7 be observed as a day of prayer and fasting for peace, Pope Francis is reviving Blessed Pope John Paul II’s efforts.
On five occasions, John Paul II called for days of fasting and prayer for peace between 1986 and 2003.
The first was on Oct. 27, 1986, for the historical first meeting of religious leaders in Assisi.
The second and third were held for an end to the conflict in Bosnia Herzegovina, on Jan. 10, 1993, and on Jan. 21, 1994.
After the attacks in the U.S. on Sept. 11, 2001, Pope John Paul II wanted once more to unite religions in Assisi, to pray and fast for world peace. In that case, the Pope called for fasting on Dec. 14, 2001, while a meeting for prayer in Assisi took place on Jan. 24, 2002.
Then, with the winds of the Second Gulf War already blowing, John Paul II called for one last day of fasting and prayer for peace on Ash Wednesday, March 5, 2003.
These days of prayer were often accompanied by a strong diplomatic effort carried forward by the Holy See.
Right before the Second Gulf War, for example, John Paul II sent Cardinal Roger Etchegaray as a sort of Vatican special envoy to the crisis area. The Holy See was also committed as mediator in the dialogue between the Italian and Iraqi governments, sponsoring a visit to Italy by Tareq Aziz, a Catholic and the Iraqi vice president.
In this case, the efforts were in vain.
They were not, however, in 1962, during the papacy of Blessed Pope John XXIII, who had been apostolic nuncio and knew diplomacy well.
Informed of the presence of Soviet missiles in Cuba, U.S. President John F. Kennedy ordered a naval blockade and demanded the removal of the missiles, threatening to attack Cuba if the removal did not take place.
The attack could have certainly provoked an escalation of arms, as the Soviet Union was ready to react.
John XXIII committed himself to achieving a peaceful solution, and decided to intervene with a radio message, aired by Vatican Radio on Oct. 25.
Speaking in French – the language of Vatican diplomacy – Pope John XXIII underlined that “the Church cared most about peace and fraternity among human beings,” and begged “the head of States not to be callous to the call of humanity” and to “do everything they can to save the peace.”
Headlined by the most important international media outlets, Blessed John XXIII’s words gave new impetus to the diplomatic effort, and the “Cuban crisis” was avoided.
Singapore, Sep 7, 2013 (CNA/EWTN News) - Through a special website and numerous events to help offer catechesis, Risen Christ parish in central Singapore has promoted spiritual growth for its diverse parishioners throughout the Year of Faith.
“It is important for us that the Faith has to be shared and we can’t take it for granted,” Fr. John Sim, pastor and head of the Year of Faith committee at Risen Christ, told CNA Aug 31.
When Benedict XVI announced the Year of Faith, the parish formed a committee to “brainstorm and propose” various activities to help parishioners in rekindling their faith life, given the diverse ages and backgrounds of those who come to the parish.
Fr. Sim said he has 8,000 parishioners of various nationalities, including Malaysians, Chinese, Filipinos, Koreans and Indian. In addition to English, Masses there are said in Mandarin, Tamil, and Tagalog.
The parish's Year of Faith website, http://yof.risenchristmedia.org, contains materials including Benedict XVI’s apostolic letter Porta Fidei, information on the Year of Faith, the Catechism, and other resources.
“We also have 40 strong lay apostolate groups. And it’s our responsibility to form them,” said Fr. Sim.
Risen Christ's “Parish Renewal Experience” has been initiated to strengthen parishioners' faith, and will be an ongoing program, he explained.
The parish has hosted workshops, seminars, and video screenings, as well as a 10-week series of quiz gatherings on the faith, which Fr. Sim described as “encouraging, interesting and successful.”
The quiz topics included the Catechism of the Catholic Church, Sacraments, Second Vatican Council, and Catholic teaching on human life, mission, and evangelization.
Observing October as Mary's month, Risen Christ is working to prepare an exhibit on Marian devotion and her role in salvation.
Located in the central Toa Payoh district, Risen Christ parish serves the faithful in the Archdiocese of Singapore. The archdiocese includes 185,000 Catholics, slight less than 4 percent of the total population.
Vatican City, Sep 7, 2013 (CNA/EWTN News) - In his daily homily on Saturday, Pope Francis reflected on the question of authentic Christianity and rejected the practice of focusing more on devotions than on Christ himself.
Jesus is “the center” of faith, said the Pope. “A commandment is valid if it comes from Jesus: I do this because the Lord wants me to do this. But if I am a Christian without Christ, I do this and I don’t know why I have to do it,” he said to the congregation at the Vatican’s Casa Santa Marta on September 7.
Like the Pharisees, he said, there are some people who “make so many commandments the center of their religiosity.”
Others who have a false sense of religiosity “only seek devotions” or “things that are a little uncommon, a little special, that go back to private revelations,” noted Pope Francis.
“If your devotions bring you to Christ, that works. But if you remain there, something’s wrong,” he explained.
“If Jesus is not at the center, there will be many other things,” so that people become “Christians without Christ.”
Remembering that Jesus is the center of faith “regenerates us, grounds us.”
Pope Francis further explained the mark of a true “Christian with Christ.”
“The rule is simple: only that which brings you to Jesus is valid, and only that is valid that comes from Jesus. Jesus is the center, the Lord, as He Himself says.”
Christians can avoid false religiosity by adoring Jesus as “the Lord, the only Lord.”
“If you aren’t able to adore Jesus, you’re missing something,” warned Pope Francis.
The sign of a true “Christian with Christ” is one who does “that which comes from Jesus” and that which leads to Jesus.
Such adoration bears true fruit in the life of a Christian, encouraged the Pope.
He said that Jesus also gives “the grace of loving Him so much, of following Him, of going along the path that He has shown us.”
A “Christian with Christ” has the courage to proclaim Jesus as Lord.
Pope Francis exhorted Catholics not to focus on false piety, but rather evangelize and “take the Gospel!”
Vatican City, Sep 7, 2013 (CNA/EWTN News) - Addressing myriad people in St. Peter’s Square, Pope Francis denounced war as a “defeat for humanity” and called on world leaders and individual Christians alike to rebuild a “shattered” harmony.
“Let us pray for reconciliation and peace,” the Pope exhorted the crowds. “Let us work for reconciliation and peace, and let us all become, in every place, men and women of reconciliation and peace!”
Pope Francis and an estimated one hundred thousand people knelt in prayer together in St. Peter’s Square Saturday evening, seeking peace throughout the globe and especially in Syria. The Vatican prayer vigil included hymns, scripture readings, and silent reflection as incense drifted into the night sky.
The U.S. has threatened military strikes against the Syrian government, which the U.S. blames for the deaths of over 1,400 people, including hundreds of children, in an Aug. 21 chemical weapons attack.
The conflict between the Syrian government and rebel forces has claimed over 100,000 lives since it began in March 2011. Many fear U.S. intervention would increase the violence and spark a wider conflict.
Pope Francis vigorously emphasized the need to seek peace.
“War always marks the failure of peace. It is always a defeat for humanity,” he said, echoing Pope John Paul II’s words before the 2003 U.S. invasion of Iraq.
“Look upon your brother’s sorrow and do not add to it. Stay your hand! Rebuild the harmony that has been shattered!”
The Pope said that those who pray for peace must consider their own responsibility for conflict in a fallen world.
“Even today, we let ourselves be guided by idols, by selfishness, by our own interests, and this attitude persists,” he lamented. “We have perfected our weapons, our conscience has fallen asleep, and we have sharpened our ideas to justify ourselves.”
Violence, he said, repeats the sin of the first murderer, Cain.
“We bring about the rebirth of Cain in every act of violence and every war. All of us,” Pope Francis declared. “Even today we continue this history of conflict between brothers. Even today we raise our hand against our brother.”
He considered whether it was possible for humanity to change direction.
“Can we get out of this spiral of sorrow and death? Can we learn once again to walk and live in the ways of peace?” he asked.
“Yes, it is possible for everyone!” he declared. He called on every person, including those who govern nations, to say “yes” to peace.
The Pope placed the Crucifixion of Jesus Christ at the center of his homily.
“My Christian faith urges me to look to the Cross. How I wish that all men and women of good will would look to the Cross if only for a moment!”
“In the silence of the Cross, the uproar of weapons ceases and the language of reconciliation, forgiveness, dialogue and peace is spoken,” he explained.
The Pope reflected on the goodness of creation as taught in Genesis, where humanity is “one family, in which relationships are marked by a true fraternity.”
In the beginning, mankind’s relationship with God “mirrors every human relationship and brings harmony to the whole of creation,” explained Pope Francis.
Although the world is now marked by sin, this original goodness should inspire us, the Pope urged.
“This evening, in reflection, fasting and prayer, each of us deep down should ask ourselves: Is this really the world that I desire?”
Each person must realize that “to be human means to care for one another,” he continued, calling this a way to peace.
“Dear brothers and sisters: forgiveness, dialogue, reconciliation. These are the words of peace in beloved Syria, in the Middle East, in all the world,” the Pope said.
The Pope’s vigil remarks followed a recitation of the rosary with meditations from the writing of St. Therese of Lisieux.
At the start of the vigil, an image of Mary known as “Salus Populi Romani,” the “Protectress of the Roman People,” was placed near the altar to serve as an inspiration for prayer.
After his homily, Pope Francis joined tens of thousands of people in silent adoration before the Eucharist. He noticeably clutched his own pectoral cross.
After the Liturgy of the Hours prayers, the evening concluded with Benediction.
Thousands of other prayer vigils are being held around the world in response to the Pope’s call to prayer.
Greg Burke, senior communications adviser to the Holy See’s Secretariat of State, said Pope Francis has engaged in a “major peace initiative” in response to the Syria crisis.
“Pope Francis wants to keep this issue alive to make sure everything possible could be done to put an end to the violence, and not to increase it,” Burke said.
Vatican City, Sep 7, 2013 (CNA/EWTN News) -
As the sun set over St. Peter’s Square in Rome, Rhode Islander Angeline Martin stood in line for confession and prepared to join Pope Francis in a world-wide prayer vigil for peace.
Martin, 34, was on vacation in Tuscany with family members from around the world when her mother sent her an email about the Sept. 7 vigil.
“We re-arranged our plans to come here,” she said.
Martin said her family’s roots in Sri Lanka help her empathize with those threatened by war.
“Since we come from a war-torn country, our hearts are very close to what is going on in Syria,” she said.
Martin was not the only tourist-turned-pilgrim in the square.
Jeff Rutner of Minnesota was on a family vacation in Europe this week. After touring the Vatican museums today, Rutner heard that St. Peter’s Basilica was closed due to the vigil in the square.
“Although we didn’t expect to be here, we’re very excited,” he said.
As people streamed past into the square, searching for seats, Rutner leaned against a railing and took in the sights.
“You can really feel the energy,” he said. “People are coming here to pray for peace. We were here as tourists, but there’s a sense of dedication and devotion to that idea (of peace).”
Sharon Rutner agreed. She found herself surprised by the “collective energy of people from all over the world who want the same thing, which is peace.”
“It’s wonderful that the Pope is leading that,” she exclaimed.
The vigil comes as the U.S. government has threatened military action against the Syrian government. The U.S. has accused Syria of a chemical weapons attack that killed 1,400 people, the latest atrocity in a long conflict between Syrian government and rebel forces.
Ahead of the vigil, Greg Burke, Senior Communications Advisor for the Holy See’s Secretary of State, said Pope Francis wanted “to keep this issue alive to make sure everything possible could be done to put an end to the violence, and not to increase it.”
Burke said the response to the vigil has been “really positive” from Catholics, other Christians and non-Christians.
Jeff Runter certainly found it to be so. He said he hoped that the “sense of peace and the oneness of humanity” he felt in the square can “resonate with all of the leaders of the world.”
“What’s going on in Syria is terrible,” he added, “and there are no easy solutions. But perhaps this will help.”
Italian Gabrielle Palmieri, 35, felt similarly.
“Today is a very important day,” he said. “Pope Francis’ voice is very powerful. Not only Christians but Muslims and Jewish people and non-believers listen to his word. Maybe new ways of peace are coming.”
As the organ played in anticipation of the vigil’s beginning, Sister Michaela of the Handmaidens of the Child Jesus sat quietly in her chair, reading the prayer book given out for the service.
“I’m here for peace,” she said, “for prayer, for peace.”
Via di Conciliazione, the street leading to the square, was packed with people joining the vigil as twilight came. Families with small children joined with priests, nuns, and lay faithful from around the world as Pope Francis began the joyful mysteries of the Rosary.
The crowds cheered as Pope Francis spoke of the importance of prayer and dialogue, saying, “violence and war are never the way of peace!”
Then the hundred thousand people who filled the square fell silent as Pope Francis removed his white skull cap to kneel before the Eucharist.
The vigil continued until midnight as the participants alternated between prayers in silent adoration before the Eucharist and meditation on the scriptures read aloud.
An infant slept restfully in his mother’s arms, a sign of the peace prayed for by Pope Francis and pilgrims like Angeline Martin, who hopes that the prayers “will help ensure the safety and livelihood of children throughout the world.”