Pope Benedict reminded the thousands of pilgrims and local residents at Les Combes in the Italian region of Valle d'Aosta that, following the worsening of the situation in the Middle East, he had proclaimed this Sunday as a special day of prayer and penance, inviting pastors, faithful and all believers to implore from God the gift of peace. The Holy Father said: "I forcibly renew my appeal to the conflicting parties to begin an immediate cease-fire, to allow the passage of humanitarian aid and, with the support of the international community, to seek ways to begin negotiations.
"I take this opportunity," he added, "to reiterate the right of the Lebanese to the integrity and sovereignty of their country, of the Israelis to live in peace in their State, and of the Palestinians to have their own free and sovereign homeland."
The Holy Father expressed his particular closeness to the "defenseless civilian population, unjustly involved in a conflict of which they are only victims: both those in Galilee who are forced to live in shelters, and the great multitudes of Lebanese who, once again, are seeing their country destroyed and have been forced to abandon everything to seek refuge elsewhere.
"I raise a sorrowful prayer to God that the vast majority of people's aspiration to peace may be realized as soon as possible, through the harmonious commitment of leaders. I also renew my appeal to all charitable organizations to bring those people the concrete expression of shared solidarity."
Benedict XVI then recalled that Saturday marked the liturgical memory of St. Mary Magdalene, "the Lord's disciple who occupies a leading role in the Gospels," and that today is the day of St. Bridget of Sweden, "one of the patrons of Europe who lived in Rome and made a pilgrimage to the Holy Land." Let us, he added, "ask her to help humanity today to create great spaces for peace, and especially to obtain from the Lord peace in that Holy Land towards which she had such profound affection and veneration."
"I entrust humanity entirely to the power of divine love," the Pope concluded. "And I invite everyone to pray that the beloved people of the Middle East may be capable of abandoning the path of armed conflict and of building, through the courage of dialogue, a just and lasting peace. Mary, Queen of Peace, pray for us!
Catholics all over the world responded to the Holy Father's request for a world day of prayer and penance for peace. Several parishes held special prayer services in addition to their regular Sunday Masses. In Washington, D.C. Bishop Donald Wuerl reminded the faithful of the power of prayer to change hearts during a Mass at the National Shrine of the Basilica of the Immaculate Conception, the Washington Post reports.
Pope Benedict XVI, making his Angelus address from the mountain retreat in the Italian Alps where he is vacationing, led Catholics in a worldwide day of prayer and penance for peace in the Middle East. The Pope reiterated his call for an immediate ceasefire and his insistence on the rights Lebanese, Israelis, and Palestinians.