Sunday, September 14, 2014

September 14, 2014: National Day of Prayer for Peace in Iraq and Syria

On September 5, 2014 the President of the Catholic Bishops' Conference of the Philippines (CBCP), Archbishop Socrates Villegas, called for September 14 to be marked as a National Day of Prayer for Peace in Iraq and Syria.

This is in fact the second day of prayer to be called by the CBCP for Iraq; the Philippine bishops had earlier called for all Masses offered on August 18 to be Votive Masses for Peace and Reconciliation in Iraq. (The original CBCP document regarding the Masses for August 18 can be found here.) 

This time around, Syria is included in the prayer intention, and from what I can tell the September 14 day of prayer has found more exposure among Filipinos on social networks. 

Feast of the Exaltation of the Cross as National Day of Prayer for Peace in Iraq and Syria

The Gospel of peace, love and brotherhood is under siege in many parts of the world especially in Iraq and Syria. Helpless and defenseless persons are victims of a brutal imposition of a rigid and unforgiving version of faith. Religion is as much a victim, for those who kill and slaughter, wound and maim, destroy and burn in the name of God send the world the awful message that religion divides, that faith is oppressive, that belief can engender so much unkindness!

In the Philippines, we are invited by the same Gospel of brotherhood and peace to respond first and foremost by prayer accompanied by charity and solidarity

At the permanent Council meeting last September 2, it was unanimously resolved to declare September 14, 2014, the Feast of the Exaltation of the Cross, as National Day of Prayer for Peace in Iraq and Syria.

We request the Most Reverend Archbishops and Bishops to oblige all priests to celebrate all Masses that day for the special intentions of the persecuted Christians in Syria and Iraq.

In all our Masses on the feast of the Holy Cross let us unite ourselves with our suffering brothers and sisters, commending to the God who is our hope their pains, their shattered lives and dreams, their bereavement and their loss. We pray that even as many of them now see no way out of the misery that has been visited on them, the God who opens paths through the sea and ways in the desert, may make a way for them to the future that can only be His gift!

Secondly, you are requested to call for a charity collection on September 14 for the victims in Iraq and Syria. It is Christ in Iraq and Syria who has been evicted from his home. Places of worship — many of them, thousands of years old — have been razed to the ground by a godless rage with which no genuine religion can ever identify! For many, the food and drink that sustain life are daily issues. They rise from sleep each day to struggle just to keep themselves alive. We must be generous, and the fact that we have our own needs here in the Philippines does not excuse us from the Christian obligation of sharing with our suffering brothers and sisters in Iraq and Syria from our own need.

The collections must be remitted to the CBCP Secretariat by September 30, 2014. We will immediately transmit the charity aid to the Apostolic Nunciatures in Iraq and Syria.

‘Amen, I say to you, whatever you did for one of these least brothers of mine, you did for me. (Matthew 25:40).

For the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of the Philippines, September 5, 2014.

Archbishop of Lingayen-Dagupan
President, CBCP

Among the national dailies of the Philippines, Manila Bulletin (one of the Philippines' "big three" newspapers) has dedicated its editorial to this call for prayer:

Today has been declared a National Day of Prayer for Peace in Syria and Iraq by the Catholic Bishops Conference of the Philippines (CBCP). Lingayen-Dagupan Archbishop Socrates Villegas, president of the CBCP, wrote the nation’s bishops: “In all our Masses on the Feast of the Holy Cross, let us unite ourselves with our suffering brothers and sisters, commending to the God who is our hope their pains, their shattered lives and dreams, their bereavement and their loss.”

Recent events in Iraq have occupied the front pages of newspapers around the world, following reports of the invading Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) persecuting religious minorities, including Christians. A British and two American journalists were beheaded, simply because they were Westerners and the United States was opposing the invading ISIS with air strikes.

President Obama has now announced that the US will escalate its response to the invading ISIS by sending air strikes to Syria, where the invasion began. This is the same Syria, where 40 Filipino troopers serving with UN Peacekeepers chose to fight in defiance of a UN commander’s order to surrender, probably aware that elsewhere in Syria and Iraq, hostages have been beheaded simply because they were identified as Americans or sympathetic to them.

There is one other disturbing link that connects us to the violence in Syria and Iraq. This is the report that some Filipinos in Mindanao are being recruited to fight with the ISIS. A Canadian Islamic preacher was arrested in Davao last Sunday as a potential threat to national security, while an Australian who had urged the people to join the “jihad” in Iraq and Syria was deported.

On so many fronts, we are today finding ourselves involved in the destruction and death in the Middle East. The Filipino UN Peacekeepers still in the Golan Heights in Syria must remain on guard lest they be sucked one again into the vortex of violence in that region. And our officials in Mindanao must be on alert against foreigners trying to entice our young rebels to fight in Iraq and Syria.

We can all be part of the new front of peaceful and prayerful engagement opened by the CBCP and join in today’s National Day of Prayer for Peace in Syria. Our prayers and the charity collections that the Church hopes to raise today will go a long way in helping the suffering people in that part of the Middle East .

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