“Knowing that we are not alone in our suffering and pain and that the ecumenical world is with us and supports us in our path towards reconciliation and peace means a great deal to us.” Father James Oyet Latansio, Secretary General of the Council of Christian Churches of South Sudan, spoke on behalf of Sudanese Christians and provided an overview of the Country’s reception of the special Day of Fasting and Prayer called for by Pope Francis with a special focus on South Sudan and the Democratic Republic of Congo, two countries afflicted by conflicts, internal turmoil and droughts.
In the Angelus prayer of Sunday February 4 the Pope launched this initiative in the face of “the tragic protracted situations of conflict in different parts of the world” and proposed a special Day of Prayer and Fasting for peace to be held February 23rd, the Friday of the First Week of Lent, inviting non-Catholic and non-Christian brothers and sisters to join in “in whatever ways they deem most appropriate, all together.”
Intense correspondence. In the following days the Secretary General of the World Council of Churches (WCC), Rev Dr. Olav Fykse Tveit, received a letter by Cardinal Kurt Koch, President of the Pontifical Council for the Promotion of Christian Unity. “The prayer of all Christians on that day for the gift of peace – His Eminence wrote – would be an authentic sign of solidarity and closeness to those suffering in these nations and above all to the many Christians from different churches who live there, and moreover would be a tangible step in the shared witness to the Gospel of peace, of which the world is in such need.” Rev Tveit welcomed the invitation of Cardinal Koch and in a letter to WCC member Churches he recalled that children, young men, and women have been among the most affected.
“Millions of women and girls are exposed to gender-based violence in these crisis-affected areas”
The figures released by the WCC are alarming. In the Democratic Republic of Congo 4.3 million people are displaced and 13.1 million people will be in need of humanitarian assistance this year. In South Sudan, during the past four years of conflict, 2 million people have fled as refugees and about 1.9 million people are internally displaced. An additional 7 million people inside the country – almost two-thirds of the remaining population – need humanitarian assistance.
Also the Anglican Communion is in the frontline. The Anglican Communion’s news service dedicated a special editorial on the initiative highlighting the “positive, global response” to Pope Francis’ invitation on the part of Anglican provinces around the world including a number of senior Anglicans. These include Archbishop Masimango Katanda Zacharie, the Primate of the Anglican Church of Congo, who expressed his happiness at the Pope’s initiative and said that the bishops in the province would be encouraging their churches to take part.
In the “list” of adhesions drawn up by the Anglican News Service figures, inter alia, the Archbishop of Cape Town, the Primate of Southern Africa, Thabo Makgoba who wrote a special prayer that will be read on Friday and on Sunday liturgies. In New Zealand the Catholic Archbishop of Wellington, Cardinal John Dew, wrote a joint message with one of the primates of the Anglican Church, Archbishop Philip Richardson, inviting the faithful to fasting and prayer. “There is need to pray for South Sudan, especially at this time where the leaders of South Sudanese are in Addis Ababa for peace talks”, wrote the Anglican Bishops of South Sudan. “Prayer is very important because it is our weapon as Christians. Pray that the Almighty God can turn their hearts from waging war to peace. We, the South Sudanese, are fed up of war.”
From the Vatican. Contacted by SIR, Mons. Andrea Palmieri, Under-Secretary of the Pontifical Council for Promoting Christian Unity, said that in the past days the Dicastery has been informed on many initiatives. “We are reading the answers we received from the religious leaders of the Orthodox Churches and of other Churches and Communions that conveyed their participation in the Pope’s initiative.” However “communications are yet to be detailed”, and thus we don’t have a complete list yet. However, noted the Vatican dicastery – the Pope has not made a request to anyone so no one is expected to respond. He simply expressed the wish that also the brothers and sisters of Christian Churches may take part in the Day, a hope that the Dicastery has retransmitted.
The “positive response to the invitation of the Holy Father” was equally highlighted by the Pontifical Council for Interreligious Dialogue that on February 6 released a statement conveying the Pope’s wish to extend the invitation to fasting and prayer to the faithful of other religions, “in the awareness that religions can give a major contribution to the achievement and consolidation of peace.” The Dicastery sent a letter to all dialogue partners inviting them “to live out moments of prayer, fasting and reflection each according to their own tradition and in their places of worship.”
In Italy the Letter of the Vatican dicastery arrived also to Imam Yahya Pallavicini from Coreis – the Islamic Religious Community – who in turn rose the awareness of all delegates representing 9 Italian regions as well as the Islamic Communities with which they are in touch. “The Pope’s appeal –the Imam told SIR – enshrines a humanitarian message and a fraternal sensitivity. We are called to reach out to the intrinsic nature of man in concrete fraternity.” The invitation to prayer and fasting was deeply appreciated by Muslims, to be lived out “each according to their own tradition and in their places of worship”, for it exemplifies that
“things can be done together while remaining within one’s own realm, promoting a new level of commitment and respect.”