U.S. Bishops, Parishes Asked to Offer Special Prayer for Peace in Iraq

WASHINGTON (CNS) — The chairman of the U.S. bishops’ international policy committee has asked the nation’s Catholic bishops to invite the people of their dioceses to pray for peace in Iraq on 17 August.

Bishop Richard E. Pates of Des Moines, Iowa, who is chairman of the bishops’ Committee of International Justice and Peace, made the prayer request on 6 August.

He sent the bishops the text of a prayer written by Chaldean Catholic Patriarch Louis Raphael I of Baghdad, who said on August that the Christians were facing “a human catastrophe and risk a real genocide.”

In June the Islamic State, or ISIS, proclaimed the creation of a new “caliphate,” or state run by a religious leader, after thousands of militants seized control of large parts of northern and central Iraq and eastern Syria. There has been a mass exodus of Christians from those regions of Iraq; they were told by militants to flee, convert to Islam or be killed.

Militants have released videos on Facebook and other social media showing mass executions of Christians and other Iraqis. According to some estimates, as many as 1,500 people were killed in July.

In his request for prayers, Bishop Pates noted Pope Francis’ calls for peace in Iraq and his observation that “violence generates more violence; dialogue is the only path to peace.”

The Iowa bishop also urged Catholics to let their elected representatives know of their concern that humanitarian assistance reach Christians and other religious minorities who are suffering in Iraq, Syria and other countries.

On 7 August U.S. President Barack Obama authorized airdrops of humanitarian supplies to thousands of religious minorities in Iraq and limited airstrikes against the Islamic militants in Iraq.

The U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops issued the text of Patriarch Louis Raphael’s prayer: “Lord, the plight of our country is deep and the suffering of Christians is severe and frightening. Therefore, we ask you Lord to spare our lives, and to grant us patience, and courage to continue our witness of Christian values with trust and hope. Lord, peace is the foundation of life; Grant us the peace and stability that will enable us to live with each other without fear and anxiety, and with dignity and joy. Glory be to you forever.”

In a strongly worded 25 July letter to U.S. National Security Advisor Susan Rice, Bishop Pates said that U.S. humanitarian assistance “was urgently needed to help these beleaguered people [of Iraq], especially Christians.”

“This aid should go directly to the minority communities through trusted NGOs, otherwise past experience has shown that aid is diverted,” he said.

He asked that the U.S. government “do all that it can to provide this critical assistance to those in desperate straits and to work with other governments in an effort to stop the violence.”

Bishop Pates reminded Rice he had written to her a month earlier about “the escalating violence in Iraq that targets Christians and other religious communities.”

“I asked that the U.S. government urge Iraqi political leaders to form an inclusive government representative of all ethnic and religious groups, thus reversing the exclusion that has been exploited by extremists. Only in this way can the rule of law be restored and the common good of all be served, he said. “Sadly the situation in Iraq has only deteriorated in the past month.”

In a 22 July statement, Archbishop Joseph E. Kurtz of Louisville, Kentucky, who is president of the U.S.C.C.B., urged Catholics to join with him in prayer and action for peace in all the world’s trouble spots, including the Middle East, Ukraine, Africa and Central America, pointing in particular to the “terrible crisis of Christians in Iraq.”

In the coming days and weeks I urge you to ask our Catholic people to pray for peace and to support diplomatic efforts aimed at dialogue and reconciliation,” Archbishop Kurtz said. “As Jesus admonishes us: ‘Blessed are the peacemakers’ (Matthew 5:9). This can be done in personal prayers and in the prayers of the faithful at Mass.”

He added, “We should never underestimate the power of prayer; for it touches and opens us to the power of God among us. My prayer is that together we might help open our world to God’s gift of peace.”

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