Franciscans Pray for Peace

Maria Hayes In the Headlines

Pope Francis’s cry for peace in Syria is reverberating throughout the world. In response to nations considering military action in the war-ravaged country, Franciscans and their partners-in-ministry around the globe joined other Christians and Muslims in a day of fasting and prayer on Sept. 7. In addition, their leaders contacted government officials.

Last week, General Minister Fr. Michael Perry, OFM, wrote a letter to the Order urging friars to continue to work with other Christians and religious seekers toward creating a sustainable peace.

“It is clear that we cannot idly stand by and watch our brothers and sisters suffer as if their suffering has nothing to do with our lives and our Christian, Franciscan identity,” said Fr. Michael in his Sept. 6 communication.

The General Minister asked that friars and their ministries explore ways to continue to fast and pray for the foreseeable future, “that the ‘cry for peace’ might rise up from our Franciscan fraternities and from the Order, that it might become a positive force for justice, truth and the healing of nations.”

ESC Initiatives
The Order’s English-speaking Conference released a statement to members of Congress today that strongly encouraged them to vote against the use of military force in Syria, while also committing the ESC to several peacemaking actions.

“Dropping bombs and declaring ‘we have done our part’ is not an adequate response to this crisis,” reads the statement, signed by Provincial Minister John O’Connor, OFM, and other provincial ministers of the ESC. “We believe that nations must work to repair relationships which are broken through a dialogue which ultimately leads to reconciliation and a just peace. Only then will we fulfill our responsibility to one another to be ‘instruments of peace.'”

In addition to continuing to pray and fast as the General Minister suggested, the ESC will commit itself to advocating to elected officials to do the following:
•   Vote against the use of military force in Syria
•   Seek to de-escalate the violence by stopping the flow of arms to all sides and pursuing a ceasefire
•   Increase the flow of humanitarian assistance to Syria and to its citizens who are now refugees in othernations
•   Pursue an immediate ceasefire, as the first step in the peace process
•   Work with the international community to pursue a just political settlement with all stakeholders in the conflict

“We deeply deplore the disregard for human life that marks this conflict in Syria,” the statement reads. “We join with others to condemn the use of chemical weapons as well as the killing of civilians by means of ‘conventional weapons.’ The killings of hundreds of thousands of children, women and men, and the plight of thousands of refugees fleeing violence and death demand a response from all nations and all peoples. We understand that to remain silent is both irresponsible and immoral. Silence creates only accomplices.”

“No one should be surprised that Franciscans, with a long tradition of peacemaking, call for a nonviolent response to the tragic situation,” the statement continues. “But, ours is not a naive hope about nonviolent conflict resolution. Rather, it reflects the wisdom that war and violence cannot achieve peace. Our experience affirms Pope Francis’s words, ‘Never has the use of violence brought peace in its wake. War begets war, violence begets violence.'”

The full statement is available on the website of the English-speaking Conference.

This is one in a series of initiatives the ESC has taken to encourage U.S. lawmakers to address the war in Syria through nonviolent means. In July, the ESC joined a diverse coalition of American religious leaders in writing a letter to President Barack Obama that called for a strong diplomatic effort, continued humanitarian relief, and refraining from providing military assistance to either side of the conflict.

Local Action
Ministries around the Province answered Pope Francis’s call for fasting and prayer on Sept. 7. Some places — like St. Mary’s Parish in Pompton Lakes, N.J., where Frank Sevola, OFM, is pastor — offered extended hours so people could come and engage in quiet prayer. St. Francis of Assisi Parish in Raleigh, N.C., where Mark Reamer, OFM, is pastor, welcomed Bishop Michael Burbidge and five members of clergy from other Christian denominations at a Prayer Service for Peace at St. Mary of the Angels Chapel.

On Saturday, Michael Duffy, OFM, guardian of the Juniper Friary in Philadelphia, along with friars and partners-in-ministry from the Kensington neighborhood, attended a prayer service at the Cathedral Basilica of Saints Peter and Paul in Philadelphia.

Thomas Gallagher, OFM, pastor of St. Patrick-St. Anthony Parish in Hartford, Conn., encouraged parishioners with a message published in the Sept. 8 bulletin. “I can remember in my youth being in awe as Pope Paul VI knelt at the United Nations and begged world leaders: ‘No more war, never again war. Peace, it is peace that must guide the destinies of people and of all mankind,’” Thomas said. “Pope Francis repeated that plea just days ago. At this point, our prayer is essential.

“Let us pray for all who are suffering the violence and injustice of the regime in Syria, for all who have lost loved ones, for leadership on every side of the conflict, for world leaders, and for our national leaders,” he continued. “May a just and peaceful resolution be realized.”

 Maria Hayes is communications coordinator for Holy Name Province. Jocelyn Thomas provided research for this story. In this photo, pilgrims pray in front of the tomb of St. Francis on Sept. 7. Image courtesy of AFP/Getty Images.