Last Saturday Catholics - and, indeed, many people of different faith traditions - offered a day of prayer and fasting for peace in Syria and gathered in intense communal prayer for the avoidance of military strikes from world powers and an end to hostilities within the country. Pope Francis, in his Sunday Angelus six days before, had called for the special day. In response, Catholics gathered in cathedrals and churches throughout the world, including hundreds who joined with our own Auxiliary Bishop Gregory Bittman at St. Joseph's Basilica in Edmonton. Only a few days after the event we now hear of a diplomatic proposal acceptable to the Syrian government and received positively - even if with hesitation - by the U.S. and others, in the light of which the possibility of a missile strike has been called off ... for the moment. What is being widely reported is the flurry of diplomatic activity that has brought us to this moment. People of faith are recognizing a deeper and prior agency at work - the power of prayer. At the call of Pope Francis, countless thousands implored the Lord for peace at a time when a military strike seemed certain to occur. Now there is real hope that it can be avoided.
The situation in Syria remains horrible. Our hearts continue to weep for the people who suffer and are forced to flee their country. We recoil in horror that the use of chemical weapons could even be contemplated yet alone used on innocent people. From the depths of our hearts we must continue to pray, confident that the Lord alone has the power to change hearts, to bring about surprising new possibilities and to lead us to reconciliation and peace.
Please continue to pray. Recall that this coming Saturday is the national day of prayer and fasting called for by Canada's Bishops last June. It is the Feast of the Exaltation of the Cross, by which Jesus Christ broke down the barriers of hostility separating his people from one another (cf. Ephesians 2:14). Please offer prayer and sacrifice throughout the day that the power of Christ's Cross will bring a true and lasting reconciliation and peace to the people and nation of Syria and throughout the Middle East. I will be celebrating Mass at St. Joseph's Basilica at 5:00 pm that day and invite you to join me.
We. are grateful to our Holy Father for his summons to prayer. It is a call we must continue to heed.