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As wars rage, Catholics in U.S. gather to pray, fast for peace

A Catholic school student prays the rosary at the Cathedral Basilica of SS. Peter and Paul in Philadelphia before an Oct. 27, 2023, "Mass for the Preservation of Peace and Justice" celebrated by Archbishop Nelson J. Pérez of Philadelphia and Metropolitan Archbishop Borys A. Gudziak of the Ukrainian Catholic Archeparchy of Philadelphia. (OSV News photo/Gina Christian)
A Catholic school student prays the rosary at the Cathedral Basilica of SS. Peter and Paul in Philadelphia before an Oct. 27, 2023, "Mass for the Preservation of Peace and Justice" celebrated by Archbishop Nelson J. Pérez of Philadelphia and Metropolitan Archbishop Borys A. Gudziak of the Ukrainian Catholic Archeparchy of Philadelphia. (OSV News photo/Gina Christian)

PHILADELPHIA (OSV News) — With close to 30 major wars and conflicts raging throughout the world — among them, the Israel-Hamas war and Russia’s war on Ukraine — Catholics across the country gathered Oct. 27 in response to Pope Francis’ call for a worldwide day of prayer for peace.

At St. Peter’s Basilica, the pope presided over evening prayers for peace, and invited Christians of all denominations, as well as all people of faith and goodwill, to pray, fast and do penance to end violence and restore peace, saying in his Oct. 22 Angelus address that “any war there is in the world … is always a defeat” and “a destruction of human fraternity.

“Brothers, stop! Stop!” Pope Francis implored.

After Hamas militants attacked some 22 locations in Israel Oct. 7, killing hundreds and taking over 200 hostages, Israel declared war on Hamas, placing Gaza under siege and pounding the region with airstrikes as Hamas has returned fire. To date, some 1,400 in Israel, including at least 30 U.S. citizens, and — according to Hamas officials — some 7,000 in Gaza have been killed. The ensuing humanitarian crisis has left the Middle East “on the verge of the abyss,” said United Nations Secretary-General António Guterres, as Israel prepares for a ground offensive.

Russia’s full-scale invasion of Ukraine in February 2022 has continued attacks launched in 2014. Two joint reports from the New Lines Institute and the Raoul Wallenberg Center for Human Rights have determined Russia’s invasion constitutes genocide, with Ukraine reporting some 111,350 war crimes committed by Russia in Ukraine since February 2022.

Metropolitan Archbishop Borys A. Gudziak of the Ukrainian Catholic Archeparchy of Philadelphia reflects on the nature and importance of peace during an Oct. 27, 2023, “Mass for the Preservation of Peace and Justice” he concelebrated with Archbishop Nelson J. Pérez of Philadelphia at the Cathedral Basilica of SS. Peter and Paul in Philadelphia. (OSV News/Gina Christian)

Archbishop Nelson J. Pérez of Philadelphia, speaking at a noontime “Mass for the Preservation of Peace and Justice” he celebrated at that city’s Cathedral Basilica of SS. Peter and Paul, offered an apology to young people for the violence and division present in the world.

Looking at the approximately 150 area Catholic school students on hand, the archbishop said he was moved on behalf of the world’s adults “to actually say sorry to them … as they witness this moment.”

Shannon Smith, an eighth-grade student at Our Lady of Calvary School in Philadelphia, told OSV News just before the liturgy — which was preceded by a multilingual recitation of the rosary — that she thinks “God is disappointed” by the world’s turmoil.

Prayer is effective, she said, because “it makes God wish there was a different answer” to the anger and hatred that provoke war.

Archbishop Pérez said the Mass is “the most powerful prayer, because it’s not just our prayer, (but) it’s actually the prayer of Christ himself.”

The archbishop also stressed that the Oct. 27 observance was an opportunity to “collectively … do penance for this horrible time.”

He noted that he and his concelebrant Metropolitan Archbishop Borys A. Gudziak of the Ukrainian Catholic Archeparchy of Philadelphia — joined by Philadelphia’s auxiliary bishops and numerous archdiocesan and archeparchy clergy — wore purple vestments to express that penitential spirit.

In his post-Communion reflection, Archbishop Gudziak said that “so many are being ripped apart (and) killed,” including “beautiful children throughout the world … in my country (of) Ukraine, the Holy Land and Africa.”

Yet “peace is when we are with God, in communion, when things are in order,” without chaos or war, said Archbishop Gudziak. “Let us be carriers of peace. Let us flow into its source, in union with our Creator.”

Bishop Robert J. Brennan of Brooklyn, New York, led a Holy Hour followed by a Mass at the Cathedral Basilica of St. James in Brooklyn, and in a message released for the observance, Archbishop John C. Wester of Santa Fe, New Mexico, also invoked the intercession of Mary.

“We are distressed about the loss of human life and the sanctity of life, and we humbly implore God to grant His grace upon this vital intention for our sisters and brothers in Israel, Palestine and the entire Holy Land,” said Archbishop Wester. “Our Lady Undoer of Knots, pray for us.”

In its Facebook post for the occasion, the Archdiocese of Los Angeles displayed a video of a procession honoring Our Lady of Guadalupe, saying that “we find solace in (her) comforting words” to St. Juan Diego: “‘Am I not here, I, who am your Mother? Are you not under my shadow and protection? Am I not the source of your joy? Are you not in the hollow of my mantle, in the crossing of my arms?’ … May we implore her intercession today in a special way, asking for much needed peace in our world and in our hearts.”

Smoke rises after an Israeli airstrike on Gaza seen from a viewpoint in Southern Israel Oct. 24, 2023, as the conflict between Israel and Palestinian Islamist group Hamas continues. Philadelphia Archbishop Nelson J. Pérez and Metropolitan Archbishop Borys A. Gudziak of the Ukrainian Catholic Archeparchy of Philadelphia led prayers and fasting for world peace at the Cathedral Basilica of SS. Peter and Paul Oct. 27. (OSV News photo/Violeta Santos Moura, Reuters)

Bishop David J. Malloy of Rockford, Illinois, chairman of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops’ Committee on International Justice and Peace, released an Oct. 27 message renewing his call for peace in the Holy Land.

“The October 7 terrorist attacks of Hamas which initiated this war must be condemned. We renew the call for the release of hostages and protection of civilian populations,” he said. “At the same time, we affirm continued efforts to allow humanitarian access, including corridors for those seeking safety, and urge Congress to provide support for relief efforts.”

“We continue to pray for the victims caught in this cycle of violence as well as the regional and international actors who are being drawn into the conflict. We must not grow weary of offering our prayers and support for peace and justice for all concerned,” said Bishop Malloy. “A lasting solution respecting the rights, needs and aspirations of both Israelis and Palestinians remains essential to these ends.

“With passions enflamed in our own communities, online, and around the world, we must guard against any tendency to sow hatred against other people or faiths,” he said. “As the Second Vatican Council teaches, ‘The Church reproves, as foreign to the mind of Christ, any discrimination against men or harassment of them because of their race, color, condition of life, or religion.'”

Bishop Malloy said that “as Christians, we look to Our Lord and unite our prayers to those of the Latin Patriarch of Jerusalem, Cardinal Pierbattista Pizzaballa,” who cited Christ’s words in a recent letter to his faithful: “In the world you will have tribulations, but take courage, I have conquered the world” (John 16:33).

Gina Christian is a national reporter for OSV News. Follow her on X (formerly Twitter) at @GinaJesseReina.

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