Ash Wednesday: Catholics Asked to “Pray and Fast for Peace” in the Middle East

Friday, February 28 2003

(CCCB – Ottawa) At the request of Pope John Paul II, the Canadian Conference of Catholic Bishops (CCCB) is inviting Catholics in Canada to begin Lent by dedicating Ash Wednesday, March 5, 2003, to prayer and fasting for peace in the Middle East.

The Holy Father, in making his request to one billion Catholics worldwide on February 23, reaffirmed that war is not a solution. “It is the duty of believers,” he said, “whatever their religion, to proclaim that never can we be happy if one is set against the other, that the future of mankind can never be assured by terrorism and the logic of war.”

“We Christians in particular are called to be sentinels of peace in the places in which we live and work. We have been asked, that is, to be vigilant so that consciences do not give in to the temptation of egoism, lies and violence.”

In asking for prayers and fasting, the Pope said: “We will above all implore God for the conversion of hearts and the farsightedness to make just decisions in order to resolve with adequate and pacific means the strife that hinders humanity on its journey in our times.”

The Pontifical Council for Justice and Peace suggests one form of prayer that Catholics may use is the reciting of the Rosary at Marian shrines in a public and solemn way. Many recent Vatican messages on peace may also be used for meditation, including the 2003 World Day of Peace Message entitled “Pacem in terris:  A Permanent Commitment” and the message for the 37th World Communications Day.

Fasting is an ancient religious tradition, which has many rich meanings. It recalls solidarity with those living in difficult situations; is a witness to the power of denying oneself certain pleasures; and a symbolic gesture that humanity is nourished not only by physical food but also by the Word of God. The ancient tradition of fasting in the Church is complete abstinence from food for one day. Today, the practice more commonly involves one main meal without meat, with the other meals together being equivalent to one meal.

Bishop Jacques Berthelet, of Saint-Jean-Longueuil, President of the Canadian Conference of Catholic Bishops, has spoken out several times in the name of his brother bishops in Canada against the worsening situation in Iraq. In January, along with other Canadian church leaders, he signed a document entitled Prepare for Peace in Iraq, an initiative to collect signatures of Canadians opposed to armed conflict in Iraq.

Ash Wednesday also coincides in Canada with the start of a fundraising campaign by Development and Peace, a Canadian Catholic organization founded 35 years ago by the bishops to promote international solidarity and aid. The CCCB encourages people who fast on Ash Wednesday to donate the equivalent amount of money they would have spent on food that day to the Share Lent campaign.