Pope Francis isn’t eating much today—he’s fasting and praying for Syria, and hundreds of thousands of Christians across the globe are joining him.
Today, during a five-hour evening prayer service for Syria in St. Peter’s Square, Pope Francis challenged the tens of thousands gathered there to rethink approaches to conflict as the fighting in Syria escalates and as the United States and France contemplate a military strike. “How many conflicts, how many wars have mocked our history?” he asked the faithful. “Even today we raise our hand against our brother…We have perfected our weapons, our conscience has fallen asleep, and we have sharpened our ideas to justify ourselves as if it were normal we continue to sow destruction, pain, death. Violence and war lead only to death.”
His words were pointed, and he asked everyone to not add to their brothers’ sorrow. “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 continued. “Invoking the help of God under the maternal gaze of the Salus Populi Romani, the Queen of Peace, I say yes it is possible for everyone. From every corner of the world tonight, I would like to hear us cry out: Yes, it is possible for everyone!” The crowd applauded.
The prayer service began when four Swiss guards processed through the square with the icon Salus Populi Romani, Mary, the Queen of Peace and the Protectress of the Roman people. The Pope led the Rosary recitation, a meditation, and a Eucharist ceremony. Bible readings from the Gospel of Luke focused on Mary, and thousands of people in the square followed along with a 51-page booklet the Vatican produced for the service. Priests heard confessions under the St. Peters colonnade.
The last time a Pope called a similar day of prayer and fasting was in 2003, when Pope John Paul II did the same before the Iraq war. The Vatican strongly opposed the US-led military actions in Iraq, and now, a decade later, Pope Francis continues to speak out against a potential military strike in the war-torn region.
The World Council of Churches, the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops, and religious leaders around the world urged their followers to join the Pope’s call and spend Saturday in prayer. Catholics in Jerusalem met at the Church of Gesthemane. In Mumbai they gathered at the Cathedral of the Holy Name. A giant peace flag was also raised in Assisi, Italy, the hometown of Saint Francis, for whom Pope Francis is named.