The U.S. bishops are encouraging Catholics in the country and all those concerned about ongoing violence in Syria to join with Pope Francis in a worldwide Day of Fasting and Prayer for Peace.
“We are anguished by the terrible suffering of the Syrian people and again affirm the need for dialogue and negotiation to resolve this conflict that has wrought so much devastation,” said Cardinal Timothy M. Dolan of New York and Bishop Richard E. Pates of Des Moines, Iowa, in a Sept. 3 statement.
“As our nation's leaders contemplate military action, it is particularly appropriate and urgent that we in the United States embrace the Holy Father's call to pray and fast on September 7 for a peaceful end to the conflict in Syria and to violent conflicts everywhere,” they continued.
Cardinal Dolan is president of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, and Bishop Pates chairs the conference’s Committee on International Justice and Peace.
The two Church leaders echoed the words of Pope Francis, who called on the whole Catholic Church to take part in a day of fasting and prayer this Saturday, Sept. 7, the vigil of the birth of Mary, Queen of Peace.
“There are so many conflicts in this world which cause me great suffering and worry, but in these days my heart is deeply wounded in particular by what is happening in Syria and anguished by the dramatic developments which are looming,” the Holy Father said in his Sunday Angelus message on Sept. 1.
His call for prayer and fasting comes as nations including the United States discuss the possibility of military action following reports that chemical weapons were recently used against civilians in Syria, killing more than 1,400 people.
Those in or near Rome on Sept. 7 are invited to gather in St. Peter’s Square from 7 p.m. to midnight, while local dioceses and parishes throughout the world are encouraged to hold their own events.
Cardinal Dolan and Bishop Pates asked “all U.S. Catholics and people of goodwill to join us in witnessing to the hope we have in our hearts for peace for the Syrian people,” uniting themselves to those praying and fasting in Rome.
In their statement, they affirmed that the use of “chemical weapons is particularly abhorrent and we urgently pray for the victims of such atrocities and for their loved ones.”
But despite the atrocity of the reported use of such weapons, the bishops reiterated their earlier warnings against the use of military force as a response, instead stressing that “the path of dialogue and negotiation between all components of Syrian society, with the support of the international community, is the only option to put an end to the conflict.”
Cardinal Dolan and Bishop Pates also thanked those who are already working to bring peace to those affected by the violence, applauding “the work done by those bringing humanitarian aid to people affected by this crisis.”
Asking for the intercession of Mary, Queen of Peace, they voiced hope that “our prayers, fasting, and advocacy move our nation to promote a peaceful resolution of the conflict in Syria.”
Bishops from other countries have also embraced the Pope’s call for prayer and fasting.
Prayer vigils will be held in dioceses across Spain with the theme, “Vigil for Peace, United with Pope Francis.”
The Archdiocese of Madrid announced that all the Masses celebrated this Saturday will be offered for peace in Syria, and Bishop Demetrio Fernandez Gonzalez of Cordoba asked that church bells be rung at noon to remind Catholics to pray the Angelus to Mary Queen of Peace.
Bishop Gines Garcia Beltran of Guadix invited the faithful to spend time in Eucharist adoration and said that a collection taken up on Saturday and Sunday would be sent to help the millions of refugees who have fled the violence in Syria.
Archbishop Vincenzo Paglia, the president of the Pontifical Council for the Family, encouraged parents to pray and fast with their children, while explaining to them the harsh realities of global violence and the peace offered by Christ.
He suggested inviting grandparents or elderly friends to a “small lunch,” according to Vatican newspaper L’Osservatore Romano.
“If one of them has lived through a time of war,” the archbishop said, “they will be able to explain what it meant to experience the bombs and the uncertainty of tomorrow and what prayer meant during those days.”