Pope designates Oct. 27, 2023, as a world day of prayer for peace as catastrophe looms in Gaza


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Warning against a humanitarian catastrophe in Gaza and ongoing conflicts elsewhere, Pope Francis called for a day of fasting, penance and prayer for peace in the world Oct. 27.

“War does not solve any problems, it only sows death and destruction. It increases hatred, multiplies revenge. War erases the future,” he said at the end of his general audience talk in St. Peter’s Square Oct. 18.

“Our thoughts go to Palestine and Israel,” he said to applause.

“Casualties are rising and the situation in Gaza is desperate,” he said. “Please, may everything possible be done to avoid a humanitarian catastrophe.”

What is also “disturbing,” he said, is the possibility the conflict will spread just as so many other battles of war are being waged in the world.

“Please,” he said, “let us continue to pray for peace in the world, especially in tormented Ukraine,” a tragedy that is no longer talked about but continues.

“Silence the weapons,” the pope said. “Listen to the cry of the poor, the people, the children, for peace.”

He urged all people of faith to take the side of peace — “but not with words, with prayer, with total dedication.”

For this reason, he said, he has decided to designate Oct. 27 as a day of fasting, prayer and penance.

The pope invited men and women of every Christian denomination and other religions as well as those committed to the cause of peace to participate in any way they feel is appropriate.

Familiar request

The pope’s request follows the global day of prayer and fasting observed by Catholics around the world on Oct. 17.

Bishop W. Shawn McKnight urged parishes and individual Catholics throughout the Jefferson City diocese to participate by fasting, praying for peace and abstaining from eating meat.

The efforts were “in support of all those who have suffered in this war and of the families reeling from the violence.”

The call for the Oct. 17 day of prayer and fasting came from Cardinal Pierbattista Pizzaballa, the Latin Patriarch of Jerusalem.

He also asked for Catholics to participate in Eucharistic adoration and to pray the Rosary.

“Only in this way we can draw the strength and serenity needed to endure these hard times, by turning to Him, in prayer and intercession, to implore and cry out to God amidst this anguish,” Cardinal Pizzaballa stated.

Some local observances

Parishes and schools throughout the diocese reported by email and social media on their activities during the Oct. 17 day of prayer.

Typical of parishes and Catholic schools throughout the diocese, St. Vincent de Paul Parish and Sacred Heart School in Sedalia held Adoration of the Most Blessed Sacrament, with people stopping into Sacred Heart Chapel throughout the day to pray. 

Students at St. Joseph Cathedral School in Jefferson City spent time in Adoration in the Cathedral — some praying the Rosary, others writing in their prayer journal.

Gina Bailey, principal of the school, said students and teachers really enjoyed the opportunity to have some quiet prayer time to pray for peace.

Shelley Quinn, pre-school teacher at the school, placed the flags of Israel, Palestine and Ukraine on the wall under the crucifix.

“I told the kids we were praying for these places because the people there are sad and hurting,” Mrs. Quinn stated.

Sixth-graders at St. Peter School in Jefferson City prayed in St. Peter Church for the victims of the conflict and reflected on the powerfully symbolic artwork in the church while capturing some of it in their sketchbooks.

Communal recitation of the Rosary abounded, including with Sacred Heart parishioners in Columbia, students at St. George School in Hermann, and Marianna Werdehausen’s second-grade class at Our Lady of the Snows School in Mary’s Home.  

Middle-school students at Our Lady of Lourdes Interparish School in Columbia gathered in church to pray the Rosary.

Parishioners of Our Lady of the Lake Parish in Lake Ozark prayed a communal Rosary in the parish chapel. The Knights of Columbus hosted another Rosary for Peace as part of their meeting that evening.

Helias Catholic High School in Jefferson City held Adoration through most of the school day, with individuals and classes coming to the chapel to pray the Rosary together or silently intercede for peace.

“Verge of the abyss”

On Oct. 7, Hamas militants stormed from the Gaza Strip into approximately 22 locations in Israel, gunning down civilians and taking at least 199 hostages, according to Israel, including infants, the elderly and people with disabilities.

The coordinated attack took place on a Sabbath that marked the final day of the Jewish holiday of Sukkot, which celebrates the gathering of the harvest and the divine protection of the ancient Israelites as they escaped from slavery in Egypt.

Israel declared war on Hamas Oct. 8, placing Gaza under siege and pounding the region with airstrikes. Hamas has continued to launch strikes against Israel.

To date, some 1,400 in Israel, including at least 30 U.S. citizens, and more than 2,700 in Gaza have been killed.

Israel placed Gaza under siege, and warned some 1.1 million in Gaza to move south within the enclave ahead of an expected ground offensive by Israeli forces.

So far, half a million in Gaza have heeded the evacuation order, according to the Israel Defense Forces, as United Nations Secretary-General António Guterres said the Middle East is “on the verge of the abyss.”

“There is yet time to stop the hatred,” said the Jerusalem patriarchs and heads of churches in their statement.

“War is defeat”

Pope Francis called for the release of the Israeli hostages held in Gaza and spoke with U.S. President Joe Biden to discuss the humanitarian crisis and the need to de-escalate violence in the region.

“I renew my appeal for spaces to be opened, for humanitarian aid to continue to arrive, and for the hostages to be freed,” the pope said after praying the Angelus Oct. 22 with some 20,000 people in St. Peter’s Square.

Two U.S. hostages were released Oct. 20 after negotiations between Qatar and Hamas.

Pope Francis expressed his concern over “the serious humanitarian situation in Gaza,” saying he is “saddened that the Anglican hospital and the Greek-Orthodox parish have also been hit in recent days.”

A deadly Oct. 17 blast at the Al-Ahli Arab Hospital in Gaza, a ministry of the Episcopal Diocese of Jerusalem, killed at least 471 people, according to the Hamas-run Ministry of Health in Gaza.

The militant group blamed the Israeli Defense Forces for the strike, while a spokesperson for the National Security Council said the U.S. government assessed that Israel was not responsible for the explosion.

An administration building belonging to St. Porphyrios Greek Orthodox Church — one of the oldest churches in Gaza, built in approximately 1150 — collapsed during an Israeli airstrike Oct. 19. Palestinian officials said that 16 people were killed in the strike.

“War, any war that there is in the world — I also think of the tormented Ukraine — is a defeat,” Pope Francis said after praying the Sunday Angelus. “War is always a defeat; it is a destruction of human fraternity.”

Later in the day, the pope spoke with U.S. President Joe Biden in a 20-minute phone call to discuss “situations of conflict in the world” and the need to find avenues toward peace, the Vatican said.

Contributing to this report were Gina Christian and the staff of OSV News, and the staff of The Catholic Missourian.