Pray for peace

A Free Syrian Army fighter runs after a Syrian Army tank shell exploded in the Salah al- Din neighbourhood of … Continued

A Free Syrian Army fighter runs after a Syrian Army tank shell exploded in the Salah al- Din neighbourhood of central Aleppo. (Goran Tomasevic/REUTERS)

With no end in sight for Syria’s dreadful civil war, Pope Francis has called for a day of prayer and fasting for peace on Saturday, September 7. With the fecklessness of the international community, and with no prospect that limited military intervention will bring relief to the victims of war, we should be driven to our knees. It is a moment for the church to pray for God to grant peace where men have failed to dampen the fires of war and see no prospect of doing so soon.

The turn to prayer at a juncture like this is not just a Catholic thing. It is a profound human need which others can share, because humanity is face to face with its own powerlessness to prevent the cruelest evils from being done. For that reason, the pope has made his request “a universal invitation” to all men and women “of peace.” In doing so, he is giving voice to humanity’s desire for peace. He is also inviting us to come to grips with our inability to bring about peace and to voice our exasperation at the intransigence of so many now blocking the way to peace.

Prayer and fasting may be especially important exercises for us can-do Americans. The debate over whether to briefly intervene in the Syrian conflict offers an occasion to reflect on the human and national limitations that most times we are so ready to ignore or deny. After a wrong-headed war in Iraq and that country’s ongoing travails, after the very limited and probably temporary successes in Afghanistan, after so many veterans wounded in mind and heart, with the continuing chaos and repression in Egypt, we Americans have many reasons to reflect on our human limitations and particularly on the evident incapacity of military power and governmental influence to bring about the good we desire.

For all Christians, including Catholics, Saturday will also be a time to lament the impending threat of the disappearance of Middle Eastern Christianity. Syria was the last great refuge of Christians in the region. Its secular Baathist regimes allowed a religious pluralism that respected the numerous, ancient Christian churches that found their home in Syria. In addition, successive waves of Palestinian and Iraqi Christians took refuge in Syria. The Syrian sanctuary is no more, and with the Copts under tremendous pressures in Egypt, Middle Eastern Christianity is in dire peril.

For American Christians, and Americans generally, Saturday should be an occasion to search our consciences as to whether we have done enough to show solidarity with Middle East Christians. For whether in Iraq or Lebanon or Syria, time after time American foreign policy has been a disaster for the region’s Christians. If we were truly interested in international religious liberty, we would have long ago adopted a policy more attuned to the realities of the region. We would have worked to preserve the fragile accommodations that allowed religious diversity to flourish there. Now we can mostly look to a sad future for Middle East Christians as refugees and asylum-seekers. We should be sorely pained as well because granting asylum is something our nation has been loath to do, admitting only small numbers of refugees from the Middle East in the last ten years.

Fasting is another cross-cultural practice that can be embraced both by Catholics and people of good will in times of crisis. Fasting helps us better attune ourselves to the depths of our existence. It is a suitable expression of the emptiness we experience when we cannot make things right, and a way to express solidarity with the injured and impoverished victims of this war. In the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, even Congress and presidents called for national days of fasting. The Second Continental Congress and George Washington as commander in chief of the Continental Army called for days of days of ”humiliation, fasting and prayer.” So did President John Adams in 1798.

In the midst of our own Civil War, President Lincoln declared “a national day of prayer and humiliation” for March 30, 1863 “to the needful end of our reformation as a whole people.” He explained the need of spiritual purification. “Intoxicated with unbroken success, we have become too self-sufficient to feel the necessity of redeeming and preserving grace to pray to the God who made us!” Mr. Lincoln understood there was a place for fasting in civic life too.

It is no surprise that these proclamations were issued in times of war. For war puts us in extremis, but it also clouds the mind and puts the heart in turmoil corrupting our ability to perform truly human acts. Our American forebears understood that fasting cleanses the mind for sober deliberation and purifies the heart for disinterested and generous action. For these reasons, fasting is just the kind of thing we need to do as we approach a national debate on a limited intervention in Syria. The gods of military force, political rationality and human organization have failed us. Fasting has the power to free us from passions of politics and open us up to fresh visions of peace.

But we can achieve that clarity of mind and purity of heart only if we have first consciously experienced the insufficiency of political reason to resolve our problems, the inability of military power to produce a positive outcome and the incapacity of the world community to agree on a solution to so evident a problem. The essence of the day of prayer and fasting, as the American founders understood, is “humility and humiliation.” We must acknowledge our finitude and that of our institutions, and welcome our exhaustion and exasperation as preludes to renewal. Only then can we find sure hope for God’s promise of peace.

Father Christiansen, a longtime adviser to the U.S. bishops on Mideast affairs and the former editor of
America, the Jesuit weekly,
is a visiting scholar this year at Boston College.

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  • question1

    Although I certainly believe I understand the reasons behind it, I think the article is wonderful, but perhaps a little too one-sided – at least IMO. Although I can only participate in a limited fast, the idea of praying/meditating for peace on Saturday with my Jewish, Muslim, Christian, Hindi, Buddhist, atheist – with my brothers & sisters around the world on the same day for the same reason is a remarkable, terrific thing to contemplate, A remarkable & tremendous thing in which to participate. As a Christian, I believe with God all things are possible.

  • nkri401

    Don’t just pray for peace… Do somthing else to bring peace, for God’s sake.

  • morphex

    What do you people recommend we do, if your God should grant peace, we — the rest of us, I mean — choose not to accept the grant? Or is it your belief that we are where we are only because the grant is being withheld?

  • WmarkW

    Whenever I see someone advocating mass prayer to do something like prohibit abortion or handguns, I always feel “At least they’re not doing anything that might actually work.”

    People might as well pray for Christians in lands experiencing democratic Muslim uprisings, because nothing else we do is going to help.

  • Secular1

    This is the usual pile of horse manure, from the chief clown in the gown. Why do these guys try to perpetuate this kind of superstition? He knows it, the author of this inane piece knows it, that the prayer thing , has no objective value in ameliorating the circumstances. It will not move a single blade of grass in the endeavours to resolve the issue on hand. It will, perhaps be a cause for more strife.

  • Secular1

    “Although I certainly believe I understand the reasons behind it,” You do? Please enlighten us Oh! Wise one.

    ” I think the article is wonderful, but perhaps a little too one-sided – at least IMO. ” Really, this inane piece of SCAT? Really, Really? IMO? You heard of what they say about IMOs right? Like A-holes, everyone has got one. That does not mean one must subjected to every other breathing creature’s IMOs.

    “Although I can only participate in a limited fast, the idea of praying/meditating for peace on Saturday with my Jewish, Muslim, Christian, Hindi, Buddhist, atheist – with my brothers & sisters around the world on the same day for the same reason is a remarkable, terrific thing to contemplate, A remarkable & tremendous thing in which to participate” What a boatload of inane crap is this

    ” I believe with God all things are possible.” Of course everything is possible, Your mom and dad made you, so QED.

  • 3vandrum

    “For all Christians, including Catholics, Saturday will also be a time to lament the impending threat of the disappearance of Middle Eastern Christianity”
    Syria has about 850,000 Christians, about 4.5 percent of the population. The al Qaeda-linked Nusra Front, swept into the town of Maaloula in the Qalamoun mountains on Wednesday (9/5/13).Taaloula has several churches and important monasteries as well as the Greek Orthodox nunnery Mar Thecla, visited by many Christians and Muslims, drawn by its reputation as a holy place where the sick would be miraculously healed. The attack highlighted the delicate position of the Christian minority in Syria, where members of the clerical hierarchy have expressed public support for Assad. this situation is getting closely similar to the fate of the Coptic Christians in Egypt. The “limited” military strike by the Americans will exacerbate their problems.

  • Jerome342

    So, an internet article on peace, introspection, and solidarity is enough to elicit a reaction of… anger, insults, and vitriol because the author has a different belief system than your own?? My goodness. Someone please assure me this isn’t an accurate depiction of what secularism has become in the 21t century.

  • Secular1

    Jerome342, this was no article on peace. It was an article of superstition and delusions. It only encourages the credulous into inaction and avoid debate. The result is perpetuation of superstition and oppression. BTW we have no belief system of superstitions. No one is eager hereto assure you of anything. You do your own introspection. Look at yourself and your co-religionists and compare them with us and make up your own mind. We are not here to relieve you of your angst. Especially when we brood no illwill towards any person, only against superstition, orthodoxy.

  • Rongoklunk

    Yep, praying is doing nothing. There’s nobody listening on the other end.
    If prayer pleases anybody it’s the deluded guy talking to his fingers.

  • Rongoklunk

    Religion is the problem, not the answer to the problem. People acquire their religions dependent on what their folks believe and the culture they were raised in. And they inevitably conclude that ‘their’ religion is the one correct belief – for no better reason than they were raised to believe it from childhood. And isn’t it the truth?
    Look around you. The Sikh was raised that way, so was the Catholic and the Southern Baptist and the Musllm.
    Truth has nothing to do with what a religious person believes. It’s all to do with childhood indoctrination. It’s THAT profound.

  • Rongoklunk


    9/11 showed us that Faith is nothing to brag about. It’s not just totally irrational but extremely dangerous. If I had been ‘a man of faith’ – when the 19 well educated faith-heads took out the World Trade Center – and 3000 people – I would have had to examine my own ‘faith’, wondering whether I’m as gullible as the nineteen martyrs must have been to actually give up their lives to Allah. No atheist could ever fall for such blatant nonsense. You gotta have Faith that the great invisible skygod really exists. and will reward you if you kill the other. You don’t have to be crazy to believe such horrifying garbage; just very religious. Faith is certainly nothing to be proud of.
    Any idiot can have faith, and ike Mark Twain said – “Faith is believing what you know ain’t true.”

  • jdpetric

    Not one word by the writer of this article or the Pope about praying for God’s Kingdom of the Heavens to Come as Jesus says we should pray for and to come. (Matthew 6:10) I’m not surprised because they know not what it is.

    It was not for nothing that Jesus said to pray for God’s Kingdom to come. This is because it is the only Government that can bring peace to the earth and therefore mankind’s only hope.

    Notice the benefits of God’s Kingdom of the Heaven’s Rule under It’s King Christ Jesus:

    “ For there has been a child born to us, there has been a son given to us; and the princely rule will come to be upon his shoulder. And his name will be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Eternal Father, Prince of Peace. To the abundance of the princely rule and TO PEACE THERE WILL BE NO END, upon the throne of David and upon his kingdom in order to establish it firmly and to sustain it by means of justice and by means of righteousness, from now on and to time indefinite. The very zeal of Jehovah of armies will do this. Isaiah 9:6-7

    Pray for peace by praying for God’s Kingdom to Come.

  • jdpetric

    False religions are part of the problem including Atheism. While false religion claim to be God fearing by their actions they are not nor do they know God. Atheists say there is no God and feel they have no accountability to God and as culpable.The other problem is human governess by imperfect human and their imperfect forms of governess.