Letter from Rome: Let us pray for many needs
Michael C. Barber, SJ
There are many situations and people who need our prayers: As I write this from Rome it is Sept. 16 and we just heard the news of the shootings at the Washington Navy Yard. We cry out to the Lord for mercy for the dead and injured.
Archbishop Brunett, our recent diocesan apostolic administrator, has suffered a stroke in Seattle. We pray the Lord to comfort him and restore his health.
We are sickened by photographs of those killed and horribly maimed by chemical weapons in Syria. As Christians we beg God to put an end to this evil. I attended Pope Francis' Vigil for Peace in St. Peter's Square last weekend. The piazza was full, mainly with young people. The atmosphere was very sacred, and there were long periods of silent prayer before the Blessed Sacrament. It was a very beautiful, and a very long service. Those with signs and posters had to stay outside the square, as the pope wanted to have a religious, not a political event. I noticed there were many signs in Italian "contro Obama" and against military intervention by the USA — but not a one condemning the use of chemical weapons.
Two days following the prayer vigil I reported "as ordered" to "New Bishops School," held annually in Rome for all new bishops appointed in the last year. We are a group of 150 bishops from 34 countries all over the world. It is like a little United Nations, or a mini "Synod of Bishops" as we pray, eat and attend lectures and discussions together. The Holy See has been flying in excellent senior bishops from all over the world to speak to us. The two best have been from Brazil and the Philippines. We are all lodged in a large seminary outside Rome, so we're together 24/7.
I realized I would not have a chance like this again to have access to so many brother bishops from so many countries. So the first day I made a point of sitting with the Syrian, Egyptian and Lebanese bishops, as I wanted to ask their opinion on whether America should intervene militarily to help Syria. The Syrian bishop said to me "American intervention would be a disaster. If the rebel extremists win, they will destroy us Christians." The Lebanese and Egyptian bishops said the same.
I pass this on to you, as our political opinions in the US are often formed by our favorite media outlet — or the representatives of our preferred political party. But as Catholics, shouldn't we also take into account the experiences of our brothers and sisters in the Faith who live over there? Shouldn't we also consider the opinion of the Holy Father who is motivated by Christ's Gospel and the good of the whole world?
Pope Francis has asked for prayer and fasting to help bring peace. He has asked for dialogue and diplomacy. There are no easy solutions. Good people may disagree on what is the best course of action. But personally, I find myself in agreement with my friend and fellow bishop James Conley of Lincoln, Nebraska. He recently wrote in his diocesan newspaper:
"[T]o choose sides in a conflict where no side can be trusted is unreasonable. Neither dictators nor thugs masquerading as democratic reformers should be our partners. Adding to the violence in Syria escalates a war with very little hope of resolution, with no clear goals and no definition of victory."
Let's take all these intentions, together, to the Lord. Prayer changes things.
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