Latin American Catholics were scheduled to hold special prayers for Haiti on Friday, as the Caribbean nation suffers a plague of violence.

Aid to the Church in Need (ACN) reported three Latin American Catholic bodies asked people around the world to “join the cry of the Haitian people so that [it] may be heard on earth and in heaven.”

The joint statement by the Episcopal Conference of Latin America (CELAM), the Latin-American Confederation of Religious (CLAR) and Caritas Latin America highlighted that the Friday before Palm Sunday is “celebrated in many communities as the Friday of Sorrows or Mary at the Foot of the Cross.”

Armed gangs launched new attacks in the suburbs of Port-au-Prince this week, with heavy gunfire echoing across once-peaceful communities near the Haitian capital.

Associated Press journalists reported seeing at least five bodies in and around the suburbs, and gangs blocked the entrances to some areas.

The terrifying violence as antigovernmental gangs battle police in the streets has crippled the fragile economy and made it extremely difficult for many of the country’s most vulnerable to feed themselves.

Gunmen have set fire to police stations, forced the closure of Haiti’s main international airport and stormed the country’s two biggest prisons, releasing more than 4,000 inmates.

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ACN says more than three million children need emergency aid and 362,000 people are internally displaced, with half of the population living in poverty, according to CELAM and CLAR.

The Latin American Catholic statement asked for prayers of intercession “to her, mother of tenderness and mercy… so that the Lord may smooth the paths, dispose the hearts, move the wills, so that our brothers and sisters may soon enjoy a full life.”

As the attacks continued, the U.S. State Department announced Wednesday that it had completed its first evacuation of American citizens from Port-au-Prince. More than 15 Americans were airlifted to neighboring Santo Domingo, the capital of the Dominican Republic.

More than 30 U.S. citizens will be able to leave Port-au-Prince daily aboard the U.S. government-organized helicopter flights, the agency said.

“We will continue to monitor demand from U.S. citizens for assistance in departing Haiti on a real-time basis,” the department said.

On Sunday, the agency evacuated more than 30 U.S. citizens from the coastal city of Cap-Haitien in northern Haiti to Miami International Airport.

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“We hope that conditions will allow a return of commercial means for people to travel from Haiti soon. We and the international community and the Haitian authorities are working for that to become a reality,” the State Department said.

English Bishop Declan Lang, Chair of the International Affairs Department for the England and Wales bishops’ conference, has expressed his concern at the rapidly deteriorating situation in Haiti.

“We have heard the calls for peace and disarmament in Haiti. Our prayers extend to our Haitian sisters and brothers during this season of Lent, a time of reflection and renewal leading to the Feast of Easter, the celebration of new life,” he said.

The bishop urged Catholics in England and Wales to join him in prayers for justice, peace, and the cessation of the suffering in Haiti.

“Haiti has been suffering from extreme violence for weeks after a gang uprising by armed groups who say they want to remove prime minister Ariel Henry from office,” Lang said.

This article used material from the Associated Press.