The founder of Sant’Egidio comments on the appeal launched by Francisco at the Angelus to the faithful and not only to the country wounded by the attacks and the flight of civilians: “In churches there is little prayer for peace. If small groups can sow terror, small groups they can sow peace”.
Salvatore Cernuzio – Vatican News
“I appeal to everyone to intensify prayer and practice fasting. Prayer and fasting, prayer and penance, this is the time to do it. I’m serious, intensify prayer and practice fasting, asking the Lord for mercy and forgiveness”.
Looking at the drama of Afghanistan, hurt by the recent bombings and the desperate flight of hundreds of people, Francisco, from the Apostolic Palace during the Angelus, and from the even wider virtual window of his Twitter account @Pontifex, once again asked the believers from all over the world to gather in prayer and abstain from meals. Once again because on other occasions during his pontificate, in the face of humanitarian tragedies, the Pope called for this type of “action” on the part of the faithful.
Prayer and fasting in the face of humanitarian tragedies
Francisco had done this on September 7, 2013, when thousands of people, Catholics and non-Catholics, gathered in St. Peter’s Square to pray, with torches and flags, for a Syria on the brink of a possible fierce war, after the attack on civilians with gas. With equal vigor, the Holy Father had asked in 2017 to pray and fast for South Sudan and the Democratic Republic of Congo, stricken by hunger, exploitation, emigration and violence. A great vigil had been held in the Vatican Basilica, accompanied by marches and demonstrations. On that occasion, the Pope invited Christians from other Churches and followers of other religions to participate in the event, “in the way they deem most appropriate, but all together”. The same formula was used to invite the brothers and sisters of other confessions to the great day in Lebanon, called for September 4, 2020, when the world was struggling to recover from the devastating first wave of the Covid pandemic, and exactly one month ago before, he had watched in amazement the devastating explosion that took place in the port of Beirut.
Riccardi: We must pray the Rosary every day for countries at war
Also on that occasion, the Pope asked for prayer and fasting. Two practices that may seem – even in the eyes of some believers – obsolete or anachronistic in the face of the sea of needs arising from these territories torn apart in their social and political foundations. “But praying and fasting are not anachronistic practices, much less spiritualistic,” says Andrea Riccardi, founder of the Community of Sant’Egidio, commenting on the Pontiff’s initiative to Vatican News. “On the contrary, I believe that we pray very little for peace in our churches. On Sundays we hardly ever hear prayers for Afghanistan or, for example, for northern Mozambique with 800,000 refugees, or for so many forgotten wars. We pray little for peace, while we should have had in our hands every day a Rosary with the names of all countries at war to pray for them. Prayer is a strength. Giorgio La Pira used to say: “I believe in the historic power of prayer. Here prayer, to some extent, becomes the way to care for those who cannot be taken care of by entrusting them to the father’s hand of God.”
This is not the first time that the Pope, faced with humanitarian tragedies, has called the faithful and not just them to gather in universal prayer. In such emergency situations, where there is an enormous amount of work to be done, why, in your opinion, is it so urgent to launch these – so to speak – “marathons” of prayer and fasting?
In the face of distant wars, with situations that we don’t know how to solve, it seems that we can’t do anything, a feeling of impotence is created, and then from the feeling of impotence comes indifference. What the Pope called in his speech on Lampedusa a “globalization of indifference.” In the global world, in fact, we see everything, we receive photos and news of everything, but then we become indifferent because we feel we can’t do anything: what can I, a little man or woman, do in Afghanistan if the United States itself doesn’t know what to do? Instead, I believe that, in this global world, every man and woman can do something. If small groups can sow terror, small groups can sow peace. And they can do this through prayer which, together with fasting, which is also detachment from everyday life, is a “revolt” against war, as well as an invocation to the Lord, the Lord of history, so that He may open paths of peace and awakening, through His spirit, the good will of men, the powerful, institutions.
The Pope has always invited brothers and sisters from other religious denominations to join him. What value can these initiatives of the Pope have for non-Catholics?
I was present in Bari last year for the great meeting on the Mediterranean with the patriarchs and heads of the Churches of the Middle East and what impressed me most was that the Pope invited Christians to unity in prayer. A purely evangelical image. The agreement between “brothers” can move, it can open up a story of peace. Karl Barth, a Protestant theologian, therefore not easy for religious optimism, used to say that our prayer can change God’s will, direct history in a new way in which God is Lord. Of course this involves all those who believe, even believers of other religions, because peace is a value of all religions. Peace is the name of God: it is in Catholicism, Islam, Eastern religions, or, if I think of the great common heritage like the Psalms, in Judaism. It is the Spirit of Assisi, the call to prayer for peace, that revolutionary and decisive advance introduced in 1986 by John Paul II: praying together for others, not against each other.
Yesterday morning you had a private audience with the Pope. Did the colloquium discuss the situation in Afghanistan? Did the Pope share a concern or a thought with you?
The Pope is deeply concerned about Afghanistan, he follows the situation day after day, but he has not abandoned the dream and vision – and we talk about it – of building a new post-Covid world, in which social solidarity goes hand in hand with international solidarity. Fratelli tutti is the Magna Charta and the spirit with which this post-Covid society is built. We live with too many emotions linked to news, often forgetting that we are truly in a historic phase of great change, in which there is an urgent need to build a world different from the previous one. And now we are facing a drama like that of Afghanistan, which demands a spiritual and concrete solidarity in the reception. Let’s ask ourselves: what kind of society do we want to build? Societies of walls and fear or societies of hope and acceptance? Hope and acceptance that are nourished by prayer. Because prayer makes us bold and also able to think of new formulas for living together.