Preparing to pray

The United States Conference of Catholic Bishops has called upon all members of the Church to engage in a “Day of Prayer for Peace in our Communities” on September 9. They chose this day because it is the feast day of St. Peter Claver. This saint was a Jesuit missionary from Spain to Cartagena, Colombia during the colonial period, when thousands of slaves were brought through that port, with no respect for their lives or dignity. St. Peter Claver did what he could to help them feel that dignity again, as he performed the Corporal and Spiritual Works of Mercy for them.

Many Catholic African-Americans have a devotion to St. Peter Claver. The Josephite religious order, one of whose charisms is to work with African-American communities, helped to found the Knights of St. Peter Claver in the early 20th century. A few decades later the Ladies of St. Peter Claver came into existence. The Knights’ website says that “our purpose is to render service to God and His Holy Church, render aid and assistance to the sick and disabled, and promote social and intellectual association among our members.”

The press release from the USCCB says that the day of prayer was decreed, “In light of recent incidents of violence and racial tension in communities across the United States.”

The president of the USCCB, Archbishop Joseph E. Kurtz of Louisville, Ky., in July spoke of the “need to look toward additional ways of nurturing an open, honest and civil dialogue on issues of race relations, restorative justice, mental health, economic opportunity, and addressing the question of pervasive gun violence. The day of prayer and special task force [to promote peace and unity] will help us advance in that direction. By stepping forward to embrace the suffering, through unified, concrete action animated by the love of Christ, we hope to nurture peace and build bridges of communication and mutual aid in our own communities.”

Regarding the task force, the press release noted: “The purpose of the task force is to help bishops engage the challenging problems directly, by various means: gathering and disseminating supportive resources and ‘best practices’; actively listening to the concerns of members in troubled communities and law enforcement; and building strong relationships to help prevent and resolve conflicts.”

What the task force is doing for bishops is also a good reminder for all of us Catholics — of the need to listen to the concerns of people, be they from minority communities or from the police, listening not just with our ears, but with our hearts, listening to them as Jesus would. Here again the Lord is inviting us to practice the Works of Mercy.

In the Fall River Diocese, Bishop Edgar M. da Cunha, S.D.V., has invited us to engage in a month of praying for peace, beginning on September 9 and concluding on October 10 (Columbus Day), with the annual Peace Procession and Mass in Fall River. The bishop would like us as individuals and parishes to commit to daily praying for peace during that time period through prayers at Mass and through praying the Rosary for peace every day.

We have a few weeks until September 9, so we have time to consider as parishes and as individuals how we can observe the day of prayer on St.  Peter Claver’s feast day and how we can work into our daily schedules these prayers for peace. 

On May 24, 2014 Pope Francis spoke in Bethany with a group of refugees and disabled young people gathered there. He said, “I ask you to join me in praying for peace. You can do this by offering your daily efforts and struggles to God; in this way your prayer will become particularly precious and effective. I also encourage you to assist, through your generosity and sensitivity, in building a society which is respectful of the vulnerable, the sick, children and the elderly. Despite your difficulties in life, you are a sign of hope.”

St. John Paul II touched on this topic on May 10, 1984 in Bangkok: “The whole Church is committed to praying for peace, to praying for that gift of God and to doing so in the most effective way possible: by participating in Christ’s perfect offering of Himself as He intercedes for us with His Heavenly Father. In the Eucharist we are made aware of our responsibility as Christians to pray constantly, especially as a community of faith, so that we may receive Christ’s gift of peace as the family of God gathered in the presence of the Father.” His remarks go very well with Father Landry’s column in this week’s Anchor.

St. John Paul continued, “Our responsibility to pray for the gift of peace does not exempt us from the duty of taking positive, concrete action in working for peace. I speak here of the peace that comes from justice and love of neighbor and which is linked to the peace of Christ that comes from God. Our commitment to peace means resisting temptations to violence; it involves the constant mastery of the passions, respect for the dignity of others, compassion, meekness, and all those qualities which flow from a heart that is configured to the image of the heart of Christ, the Prince of Peace.”

May God help us to live out the day and month of peace in such a way that Christ’s peace truly flows like a river — the river whose source is our Baptism.

© 2018 The Anchor and Anchor Publishing   †   Fall River, Massachusetts