"Enough! Enough! Enough of the war in Syria!"
VATICAN CITY — Aid to the Church in Need is asking Pope Francis to extend his 24 hours of worldwide Eucharistic Adoration on March 13-14 by one day — to March 15 — to pray with the Christians of Syria and the Middle East for an end to violence and war in the region.
The organization’s request that the Pope extend his invitation comes in response to a call of Patriarch Gregorios III of Antioch, head of the Melkite Greek Catholic Church (in communion with Rome) for a day of fasting and prayer on March 15 for peace in Syria.
March 15 marks the day, four years ago, when protests began in the city of Deraa against Syrian President Bashar al-Assad.
In a letter dated February 24, Patriarch Gregorios III wrote: “Lent is a Way of the Cross, and we are now in the fifth year of this Way of the Cross for the Arab nations. We are today experiencing the greatest tragedy since the Second World War.
“We are lost in the face of the immense pain that our people are enduring, in all its Christian and Muslim communities,” he continued. “Absolutely everybody is suffering from poverty, hunger, cold, lack of clothing, sickness and physical handicap. In suffering all of us are equal.”
The Patriarch then said: “In deepest suffering and pain in Syria, and together with our suffering people, who are walking a bloody Way of the Cross, we appeal to the whole world: Enough! Enough! Enough of the war in Syria! We believe in the power of prayer and fasting and we are calling for a day of solidarity with Syria, a day of fasting and prayer for hope and peace in Syria.”
Aid to the Church in Need (ACN), a Catholic charity which operates directly under the Holy See, has given over $8.8 million in aid since the beginning of the war.
The executive president of ACN, Baron Johannes Heereman, recently said in an official statement: “Four years on from the beginning of the war, the situation of millions of people in Syria is catastrophic. With the spread of the conflict into the neighboring countries, the situation has become still more desperate,” he added, “the more so since the interest on the part of the international community has clearly dwindled.”
“That is why we are providing emergency aid for families in Aleppo, Homs, Damascus and other affected areas,” Baron Heereman continued. “We are helping to supply basic foodstuffs, medicines, primary medical care, financial help with rent for lodgings, heating and electricity. But money can only help to ease the suffering, not end the war.”
ACN is therefore now taking steps to support the Patriarch’s appeal for a March 15 day of prayer, by turning to the Pope.
Pope Francis will open the “24 Hours for the Lord” lenten prayer initiative on Friday, March 13 in St. Peter’s Basilica, the second anniversary of his election. The Pope is expected to repeat what he did at last year’s opening, when he surprised the world by publicly going to confession. He then spent approximately 40 minutes hearing confessions in the basilica.
After the opening at St. Peter’s, several churches in key locations throughout Rome will remain open for 24 hours, with confessors available and Eucharistic Adoration.
In his 2015 Message for Lent, Pope Francis called Christians to draw upon prayer as one of most powerful weapons against the war and violence ravaging so many regions of the world. “As individuals, we are tempted by indifference,” he wrote. “Flooded with news reports and troubling images of human suffering, we often feel our complete inability to help. What can we do to avoid being caught up in this spiral of distress and powerlessness?
“First, we can pray in communion with the Church on earth and in heaven,” the Pope said. “Let us not underestimate the power of so many voices united in prayer! The “24 Hours for the Lord” initiative, which I hope will be observed on March 13-14 throughout the Church, also at the diocesan level, is meant to be a sign of this need for prayer.”
Diane Montagna is Rome correspondent for Aleteia’s English edition.