WCR PHOTO | RAMON GONZALEZ
Edmonton Auxiliary Bishop Gregory Bittman leads a prayer vigil for peace in Syria Sept. 7 at St. Joseph's Basilica.
While President Barak Obama was drumming up support for airstrikes against Syria, Catholics in Edmonton and around the world have been praying for peace in the war-torn Middle East country.
Following the lead of Pope Francis, several hundred Edmonton Catholics joined Auxiliary Bishop Greg Bittman at St. Joseph's Basilica the evening of Sept. 7 for a special prayer service for Syria.
A few days earlier, the pope had called on all Christians and people of good will to work for peace and reconciliation in Syria. "Violence and war are never the way to peace," he said as he called for a worldwide day of fasting and prayer for Syria Sept. 7.
The Canadian bishops have also called for a day of prayer and fasting for peace in Syria for Saturday, Sept. 14, the feast of the Exaltation of the Cross. That day also concludes an emergency campaign by the bishops and Development and Peace to raise funds to assist Syrian refugees who have fled to nearby countries. Donations can be made online at www.devp.org.
At the basilica, the congregation asked God to convert the hearts of those who have taken up arms and strengthen the resolve of those committed to peace.
"Inspire leaders to choose peace over violence and to seek reconciliation with enemies," they prayed. "Inspire the Church around the world with compassion for the people of Syria and fill us with hope for a future of peace built on justice for all."
The prayer service included exposition of the Blessed Sacrament, Taizé chants, Scripture readings, adoration, Confession and prayers of intercession. Several priests were available for the sacrament of Reconciliation.
WCR PHOTO | RAMON GONZALEZ
Several hundred people took part in the prayer vigil for Syria Sept. 7 at St. Joseph's Basilica.
In his homily, Bittman said although we live far from Syria and many other nations in the world that need peace, we cannot be indifferent to their struggles and suffering.
"At the most basic level as human beings, we are in solidarity with them. Our common humanity unites us all," he said.
"This is why we pray for them. This is why we fast for them. This is why we love them as brothers and sisters, and should do all we are able so that peace may come to Syria."
Many who took part in the service said they oppose any attack against Syria because that will only bring more death and suffering.
The United States has been seeking international support for limited strikes against Bashar al-Assad's government, which it accuses of using chemical weapons in an Aug. 21 assault near Damascus.
"Certainly the U.S. and other countries are again advocating the use of weapons. But I believe in the power of prayer and I think it's important that people realize that with prayer we can make a difference," said Giuseppe Albi at the basilica.
Albi said as a Christian country the U.S. should not always be so ready to take up arms against smaller nations. "Bombing will not solve anything."
"I'm here to pray for peace in Syria, the Middle East and throughout the world," said Julien Hammond, director of ecumenical and interfaith relations with the Edmonton Archdiocese.
Hammond said the most immediate thing is to pray that Western leaders choose peace over air strikes, "but we are also praying for love between neighbours and those who are brothers and sisters there."
Hammond thinks the world over people feel powerless and don't know what to do anymore, except to pray for peace. "It's a difficult situation," he said. "Not knowing what to do, I've come to pray for peace."
Carl Chandler, 24, came to the vigil to adore Christ in the Eucharist and to pray for peace.
"I wouldn't want to support anyone in Syria," he said. "I don't think any of the armed groups is worth supporting. The best we can hope for is to pray for those who are righteous in Syria that they will persevere."
Theresia Blunt of Sherwood Park came to pray for those who don't enjoy the peace we enjoy. "I think Syria needs peace, not airstrikes," the 17-year-old said. "Airstrikes won't solve anything."
As the WCR went to press Sept. 10, Syria had accepted a Russian proposal to hand over its chemical weapons. The decision appeared to head off the American plan for military intervention in Syria.