During his Angelus address on Sunday, Pope Francis reiterated the papal battle cry of Paul VI, “War never again! Never again, war!” in response to the ongoing civil war in Syria, the regime’s use of chemical weapons, and the potential international intervention there. Referring to Syria as a martyred country – a country where the language of Jesus, Aramaic, is still spoken in some villages – the bishop of Rome urged in the strongest possible way the cessation of hostilities and the brokering of peace based on dialogue and negotiation.
He then proclaimed today, 7 September, a day of prayer and fasting for the entire Catholic Church, and invited Christians of other communions, members of other religions, and all people of good will to participate in whatever way they can. Here in Rome, we leave shortly to spend the evening in vigil at Piazza San Pietro. [The Icon Salus Populi Romani, pictured below, will be processed through the Piazza as part of the vigil this evening]
On Monday, two big questions were raised:
1) Would the secular media, who have been so far favorably impressed by this “pope who knows how to pope”, take up the cry and cover the Vigil for Peace in Syria? Or would they consign it to the littering of the editorial room floor, as they do with other pro-life initiatives of the Church (one thinks of the remarkable lack of coverage of the largest annual demonstration in D.C., for example), and
2) Would the other Churches respond? Has the genuine irenicism of the ecumenical movement of the last three generations grown to the point that we can put aside issues about whether the pope speaks for all Christians (or fear that by joining in a day of prayer and fasting would somehow acknowledge a real primacy of the Petrine office) long enough to do what is right, and to do it more convincingly by doing it as one Body of Christ?
The latter interests me more, as an ecumenist. Here is a list of ecumenical responses and endorsements to Pope Francis’ call (more added as I find them):
- His All-Holiness Bartholomew I, Patriarch of Constantinople: “Together with our Brother in Christ, Francis, we shall pray for peace” on Saturday, as we have every day since violence broke out in Damascus.
- His Beatitude Daniel, Patriarch of Romania, declared Sunday, the Nativity of the Theotokos, as a day of prayer.
- Rev. Dr Olav Fykse Tveit, General Secretary, World Council of Churches endorsed Pope Francis’ call for a day of prayer.
- Metropolitan Eustatius Matta Roham of the Syrian Orthodox Church of Antioch for Northern Syria said that the entire Syrian Orthodox Church would adhere strongly to the Pope’s call to pray for peace.
- Syria’s Sunni Muslim leader, Grand Mufti Ahmed Badreddin Hassoun, called for Syrians to join in the prayers
- Special prayers at the Great Mosque of Paris calling “for the blood to stop flowing” in Syria.
- Chief Rabbi of Rome Riccardo Di Segni said the Jewish community was “in harmony” with the Vatican.
- The Lebanese Shiite Higher Council, Vice-President Sheikh Abdel Amir Qabalan, voiced support: “Islam calls consistently for peace and harmony, and we consistently condemn killings, terrorism and foreign interference.”
- Hindu temples in India took up the call to prayer and fasting, according to Bishop Felix Machado of Visai, President of the Commission for Ecumenical and Interreligious Dialogue of the “Federation of Asian Bishops’ Conferences” .
- Mahmood Amiry-Moghaddam, of Iran Rights Watch, an interreligious NGO in Iran, reports that Shia Muslims, Bahai, and Assyrian and Chaldean Christians who are part of the Iranian diaspora would join the day of prayer.