© 2022 St. Louis Public Radio
Play Live Radio
Next Up:
Available On Air Stations

Following Francis' call to pray for peace in Syria

This article originally appeared in the St. Louis Beacon: Patricia Quarando of St. Charles will skip breakfast, lunch and dinner on Saturday. She is eager to follow Pope Francis’ call for "people of good will" to observe Saturday as a worldwide day of fasting and prayer for peace in Syria.

Quarando, an airline ticket agent, plans to go to her parish church, St. Justin Martyr Catholic Church in Sunset Hills. She’s one of thousands of St. Louis Catholics who will do the same.

"All men and women of good will are bound by the task of pursuing peace," Pope Francis said early this week. He strongly encourages world leaders to find a peaceful, negotiated way to end the strife and murder of innocents in Syria’s civil war. The pope will lead prayers at the Vatican Saturday.

St. Louis Review coverage of the crisis in Syria

Contact individual parishes to find out about plans for prayers on Saturday.

St. Louis Archbishop Robert Carlson and Bishop Robert J. Shaheen jointly called for their flocks to fast and pray Saturday. Shaheen heads the Maronite Eparchy (diocese) of Our Lady of Lebanon Parishes, which covers more than half of the United States.

The two bishops here are in unison with American Catholic bishops. Cardinal Timothy Dolan, president of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, recently wrote President Barack Obama and Congress asking for a peaceful negotiation rather than military intervention.

Dolan reaffirmed the pope’s words "that the path of dialogue and negotiation between all components of Syrian society, with the support of the international community, is the only option to put an end to the conflict."

Dolan urged the U.S. "to work with other governments to obtain a ceasefire, initiate serious negotiations, provide impartial and neutral humanitarian assistance, and encourage building an inclusive society in Syria that protects the rights of all its citizens, including Christians and other minorities."

Prayers for peace will be offered at a Mass Saturday at 5 p.m. at St. Raymond Maronite Cathedral, 931 Lebanon Dr. Many of those in the congregation will have been fasting all day.

“Fasting is a way to be more considerate of God’s role in our lives,” Bishop Shaheen said. “Fasting helps us be more tuned into prayer. By denying ourselves something, by sacrificing, we can help bring peace to the world.”

About 75 percent of St. Raymond’s parishioners have Christian Lebanese or other Christian Arab roots. Maronite rite Catholics worship in an ancient Arabic dialect that is the closest living language to Aramaic, the language Jesus spoke.

For more than a year, St. Raymond’s parishioners have been working to help their sister Catholics parishes in Lebanon provide food, water, tents, education and other basics to refuge camps for those fleeing Syria.

“The camps are bursting at the seams,” said Sheehan, who visited Lebanon twice this year. He knows of two bishops and several Catholic priests who have been murdered in the Middle East in recent months but terrorism against noncombatant Christians get scant attention in the Western press, the bishop said.

“Military intervention could lead to another world war,” Shaheen said. Russian backing of Syria deeply concerns him, he said, and he believes most of his parishioners are opposed to U.S. military intervention. Many, like him, worry about what might come next.

“What kind of assurance do we have that the next leader of Syria will be better,” he said.

Pope Francis made his appeal for people to fast and pray late Sunday afternoon, too late for most Sunday Mass announcements. Shaheen said those who did not hear in time to fast on Saturday to chose a day next week to fast.

Saturday many St. Louis Roman Catholic parishes are having special prayers. At St. Justin, for example, the prayers will open at 11:30 a.m. with the Rosary, a series of more than 65 prayers; followed by silent prayer until a Benediction service of prayers and sacred music at 4:30 p.m. and a Mass at 5 p.m. St. Justin pastor, the Rev. Joseph Weber, chose the hours because they were similar to what Francis chose for his service in St. Peter’s Square.

Most people Weber has talked to are deeply concerned about a military strike into a civil war.

“It looks like the Balkans in 1914 to me” Weber said. “I think (U.S. military intervention) is ill advised.”

Weber knows the Middle East from his three deployments as a chaplain based at Al Udeid Air Base near Doha, Qatar.

Quarando, the airline agent, is appalled by the chemical warfare used on masses of innocent Syrians. She’d be appalled if it had been used on combatants. She has hope that with prayer the U.S. will not add more violence and lost of life in an effort to condemn violence with fatal chemicals.

“I am glad Obama went to the House and Senate, even though I know he is looking for more support,” she said. “I think there has to be a more peaceful way to (condemn) Syria’s president. I believe in the power of prayer,” she said.

Patricia Rice is a freelance writer based in St. Louis who has covered religion for many years. She also writes about cultural issues, including opera.

Send questions and comments about this story to feedback@stlpublicradio.org.