MUMBAI, India – Catholics in South Asia have joined Pope Francis in praying for the Church in Congo and South Sudan on Feb. 23.
On Feb. 4, Francis announced that the first Friday of Lent would be a day of prayer and fasting for peace given the many ongoing conflicts throughout the world, particularly those in the Democratic Republic of the Congo and South Sudan.
The pontiff invited both non-Catholics and non-Christians to join “in the ways they deem most appropriate.”
“Our heavenly Father always listens to his children who cry out to him in pain and anguish,” he said, making a “heartfelt appeal” for each one of us to “hear this cry and, each one according to their own conscience, before God, ask ourselves: ‘What can I do to make peace?’”
Cardinal Baselois Cleemis Thottunkal, Major Archbishop of Trivandrum, told Crux the Synod of Bishops of the Major Archiepiscopal Syro-Malankara Church would be praying with the rest of the Church.
“Due to wars, infighting, human greed and selfishness, and poverty, there is no peace and tranquility in society. People have lost all necessary peace needed to survive,” the cardinal said. “Peace is a gift of God. Jesus said I’ve come that they may have life and have it in abundance.”
The cardinal also said they would pray to God for peace in Asia, “especially in places where there are concerns.”
“We also ask for prayers for our country, India,” he said. “We invite all people of good will to participate in their own way, in their own place, in praying for peace.”
The president of Pakistan’s bishops’ conference, Archbishop Joseph Arshad of Islamabad-Rawalpindi, also expressed his gratitude to the pope “for his love for Congo and other Churches who suffer.”
“It shows that he is concerned for all churches as universal pastor and vicar of Christ,” the archbishop told Crux.
“The Church in Pakistan will pray for the people in Congo and show their complete solidarity. Above all, dioceses of Islamabad-Rawalpindi and Faisalabad will conduct prayers for them,” Arshad said.
The archbishop and other regional church leaders are currently in Bangkok, Thailand, for a meeting of the Federation of Asian Bishops’ Conferences.
He said they would all be praying for Congo and South Sudan during the meeting.
“We are Christians and Christ teaches to love and care for all,” Arshad said. “Therefore, we are people of peace. We pray for peace in Congo and in the world.”
Dr. Akhtarul Wasey serves as the president of Maulana Azad University in Jodhpur, India.
He told Crux that as a Muslim, he will pray and fast for the resolution of conflict and peace.
“Pope Francis is a holy person, a person of compassion, who is having genuine feelings of anguish, anxiety and concerns for every community around the globe,” Wasey said. “The Holy Father sympathizes with and supports all victims of marginalization, poverty, suffering and violence, and injustice from every region and religion.”
Sister Meena Barwa is a survivor of the 2008 anti-Christian riots in Kandhamal, a district of the eastern Indian state of Odisha, formerly known as Orissa.
A series of riots led by radical Hindus left roughly 100 people dead, thousands injured, 300 churches and 6,000 homes destroyed, and 50,000 people displaced, many forced to hide in nearby forests where more died of hunger and snakebites.
“Today I’m actively participating in the Holy Father’s invitation to the day of fasting and prayer for peace,” she told Crux.
“But for me, deep in my heart is the desire for peace in Kandhamal, for peace in our Kandhamal society, peace among peoples of different communities and religions, that we may respect each other as persons and live together in harmony and peace.”