On August 6, Bishop Richard E. Pates of Des Moines, Iowa, current Chair of the U.S. Conference of Catholic BIshops’ Committee on International Justice and Peace, asked the U.S. bishops to invite the people of their dioceses to pray for peace in Iraq on Sunday, August 17. Along with this request, Bishop Pates sent the text of a prayer written by the Chaldean Catholic Patriarch of Iraq, His Beatitude Louis Rafael Sako.
The following is Patriarch Sako’s prayer:
The plight of our country
is deep and the suffering of Christians
is severe and frightening.
Therefore, we ask you Lord
to spare our lives, and to grant us patience,
and courage to continue our witness of Christian values
with trust and hope.
Lord, peace is the foundation of life;
Grant us the peace and stability that will enable us
to live with each other without fear and anxiety,
and with dignity and joy.
Glory be to you forever.
Who better to write a prayer for peace in Iraq than a pastor who is watching in anguish as his flock is driven from their homes, as many are slaughtered, and as their churches and religious sites are being destroyed by jihadis whose goal is to annihilate every Christian and every trace of Christianity from the Middle East?
The plight of Iraqi Christians may not be the worst in history (although it’s running close), but the appalling inhumanity of history’s other despots and their armies has never been captured real time in gut-wrenching images and videos. The evil unleashed by ISIS leader al-Baghdadi brings to mind the old cliché, “Hell on Earth.” Problem is, the ISIS persecution of Christians and other religious sects is not a cliché. It’s a reality of evil as never before covered on the Internet and TV. Who among us ever thought we’d witness the heads of slaughtered children atop fence posts in a public park? If this is not diabolical, I cannot imagine what would be.
But it occurred to me that Patriarch Sako’s prayer has a broader application than the ongoing genocide in Iraq. Take out a few words and this prayer could be said in our own homes and within our own families on a daily basis. Sometimes “Hell on Earth” can exist within our homes, workplaces, and neighborhoods. We don’t use sharp swords to behead, but we have sharp tongues to belittle, gossip, and defame–killing reputations as effectively as the ISIS thugs kill innocent human beings. We don’t use ropes to hang people, but our cold silences can sever communication and send a message that the other is unworthy of our patience, forgiveness, and compassion. We don’t brand people with the letter “N,” but we brand them with labels that deny their value and uniqueness, and "justify" our refusal to deal with them as persons. We can thank God that we were not taught murderous hatred for people of other faiths from our toddlerhood, but we are prone to letting evil slip into our lives in our dealings with others.
Of course, I don’t mean to make light of the genocide of Christians in Iraq. On the contrary, I want to point out that we can participate in their suffering and their desire for peace by striving to create peace in our own families. As Catholics, we grew up being told to “offer it up” when we face something difficult or unpleasant. What does “offer it up” really mean?
Offering it up means to unite our suffering with Christ’s suffering during his Passion. Jesus suffered to redeem us from our sins. When we offer our own suffering in union with his, it mysteriously aids the Lord in his redemptive mission. When we endure a hardship without complaining or consciously deny ourselves of something desirable, our sacrifice strengthens us and strengthens our fellow Christians.
If we take Patriarch Sako’s prayer to heart—for the Christians in Iraq, and for ourselves, in our daily lives—we’ll be drawn to live more peacefully. Striving to make peace the foundation of our lives can become a prayer all by itself. Every effort toward our own peace will remind us of the need for peace in Iraq, and that will give us the opportunity to offer supplication to God in our hearts, if only briefly.
I’m looking forward to praying for peace in Iraq with my fellow Catholics on August 17. I hope bishops and priests throughout this country take up the Patriarch’s call to say the prayer reflectively and fervently with their congregations. More than that, though, I hope that Christians the world over will adopt the prayer for peace in Iraq during their own liturgies. Christians everywhere should take the prayer deeply into their hearts and strive for peace in their own homes and the world around them, not just on a single Sunday, but every day until the Iraq and the Middle East has been rid of violence and hatred.
Marge Fenelonis a Catholic author, columnist, and speaker and a regular guest on Catholic radio. She’s written several books about Marian devotion and Catholic family life, including Strengthening Your Family: a Catholic Approach to Holiness at Home (Our Sunday Visitor, 2011) and Imitating Mary: Ten Marian Virtues for the Modern Mom (Ave Maria Press, 2013). Find out more about Marge at www.margefenelon.com.