What to do when it seems like "the world is exploding."
WASHINGTON – Convert nations. Save babies from abortion. Help peace break out among all nations.
Organizers of the International Week of Prayer and Fasting think big. For 21 years, the group has made no small plans about shaping world events.
This year, the organization has set its sights not so much higher as more specific. In addition to the goals of building a culture of life and bringing peace and conversion, it is committed to resolving the conflicts in the Middle East and Ukraine and ending the outbreak of the Ebola virus in western Africa, according to Maureen Flynn, chairperson of the coalition.
Using the hard power of bombs and troops or the soft power of dialogue and humanitarian aid are the traditional means governments and non-governmental organizations pursue to achieve geopolitical goals. But Flynn said the International Week of Prayer and Fasting uses the twin “spiritual weapons” of intercession and self-denial.
Like Christian organizers of the 1950s and ‘60s, Flynn works to deploy those weapons through a mass movement. Her organization asks Catholics and Protestants worldwide to pray and fast, which it believes can be deployed to great effect. “Prayer warriors,” parish leaders, prayer group leaders, and state diocesan coordinators help lead the fight.
During the week, Flynn is the editor and publisher of Signs and Wonders for Our Times, a magazine that explores “heaven’s merciful intervention” in global events. This Saturday, the resident of Herndon, Virginia will be in Washington, D.C. Her organization is kicking off its nine-day campaign (September 20-28) at the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception on the campus of the Catholic University of America.
The Eucharistic prayer vigil will run from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m Saturday. The list of speakers scheduled to appear includes Scott Hahn, a popular Catholic author and evangelist; Johnette Benkovic, founder and president of Women of Grace, a Catholic women’s group; and Archbishop Timothy Broglio, head of the Archdiocese for the Military Services.
In a 17-minute interview over the phone, Flynn said participants feel the campaign is urgent especially this year.
Is the praying and fasting for events in the Middle East, Ukraine, and western Africa a new theme?
What we’re saying is that ISIS [the Islamic State] and Ebola and Ukraine, we’re at a turning point in history. There’s a lot of evil in the world. We must come together to pray and fast. We need spiritual weapons of the rosary, the divine mercy chaplet, fasting … It seems like the world is exploding. There was someone in the news three weeks ago who said the forces of evil have been unleashed. (But) sometimes where evil abounds grace abounds.
What are the fasting requirements or recommendations?
Some do bread and water. Some do soup and water. Others do fasting for nine days. It depends. Some people are elderly and they can’t do much more than pray or give up coffee or tea. All we’re saying is do something, some fast.
What can families do together to help your cause?
What families can do together is read the Bible and read Scripture, turn off the TV or Internet, and if they’re Catholic, pray the Rosary. There’s a school close by [St. Joseph School in Herndon, Virginia] that from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. on September 24 will have a prayer vigil and a divine mercy chaplet.
You mentioned that one day of intense prayer is worth more than years of dialogue. What is the evidence for your statement?
There was evidence in Ireland in the 1990s. There, people came together to help end the troubles in Northern Ireland and Ireland and to stop the violence. This led to the [Good Friday] peace accords.
How many parishes participate in the International Week of Prayer and Fasting at home and abroad?
It’s hard to know. We get bits and pieces of information that comes through. We have people tell us, ‘Oh, we did this and that’ … This is a movement. It’s volunteers. It’s about people. There are rosary and prayer groups.
Mark Stricherz is based in Washington. He is author of Why the Democrats are Blue.