The images emerging from the Middle East are searing. Children killed, seniors held hostage, entire families losing their homes and forced to flee, innocent people on both sides of the current conflict between Israel and Gaza, as well as others in neighbouring countries, living in fear of what comes next.
With many people from each community living in the Greater Toronto Area, the anguish of each group is highly visible, with everything from protests to posters – and, sadly, sometimes hate speech and vandalism—reminding us daily that a significant part of the world is in turmoil.
We cannot turn away from this crisis, yet the entire situation can leave us feeling frustrated, trapped by not knowing how we can help, how we can attempt to bring about peace.
This Friday, though, there is an opportunity to engage, to stand in solidarity with all people suffering in the Middle East. Pope Francis has declared Friday, October 27 to be a day of fasting, penance and prayer for the world, allowing all of us the opportunity to engage in one or more activities with others throughout the world who desire peace for all. The Pope has expressed his desire that the hostages be released, that humanitarian aid be allowed into Gaza and that paths of peace in the Middle East and elsewhere be forged and cultivated.
Archbishop Francis Leo has echoed the Pope’s call for this Friday, inviting people to “participate in a way most suitable for their community. This may include Eucharistic Adoration, Daily Mass with special intentions for peace, praying of the rosary as well as clergy and the faithful offering their own personal prayer time, fasting and penances for this intention.”
These days, when we speak of fasting, many Catholics think of Lent, and the notion of “giving up.” In this instance, fasting offers us a very practical reminder of the suffering of others. A brief few hours without food is not hard for most of us, but the resulting hunger pains can point our hearts and minds back to the suffering of people we’ve never met, making us more aware of our own blessings, and of the onus on us to help in whatever way we can. (Of course, taking the money saved from fasting, especially if it becomes a periodic habit, and donating to a related cause, lending another layer to the notion of “giving up.”)
When we talk of penance, understandably our mind goes to the sacrament of Reconciliation and specific actions assigned us. But when embraced, penance can also become an ongoing process of conversation, examining our failings and our sins and working to eradicate them and to embrace the light instead of the dark. It is unreasonable of us to judge others when we haven’t turned our minds to our own failures. By working to improves ourselves, we cannot help but contribute to a more peaceful society. So ask yourself: have I caused conflict in my own daily life? Do I hold biases regarding certain people? Is my approach to others one of anger versus kindness? Taking Friday to engage in some self-examination can be a fruitful start to eradicating the things we do that do not contribute to peace.
And, of course, there is always prayer. Sometimes we make the process of prayer more challenging than it need be, feeling we have to pray specific prayers clearly stating specific goals. When we try too hard, we can come up short, allowing structure and process to stand in the way of sincere conversation with God, to stop us from listening to God.
But anyone reading headlines or watching TV news should feel confident in recognizing that now is a time to let the cries of our hearts be heard, and to appreciate the power of raising our voices collectively. There are millions of others like you who are disturbed by the crisis in the Middle East and, for that matter, unrest around the globe. We may not always understand or appreciate complex world situations, but we can all understand wanting to end suffering.
We must also remember the many other countries and regions in conflict with one another across the world and the innocent people who are caught in between.
And so, if your heart urges you to cry out, “Peace, please!” please do. And this Friday, know that you are not alone but adding your voice to those heard around the world.