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Archbishop Coakley on Syria: “The road to peace must be paved with prayer”

OKLAHOMA CITY (Sept. 4, 2013) – In response to various calls for military intervention in Syria after an Aug. 21 chemical weapons attack near Damascus left nearly 1,500 civilians dead, Pope Francis proposed Saturday, Sept. 7, as an international day of fasting and prayer for peace in Syria, the Middle East and throughout the world.

The prayerful demonstration will coincide with the vigil of the birth of Mary, Queen of Peace, and will come just days before members of the U.S. Congress will consider a resolution to authorize military force in Syria.

The Most Reverend Paul S. Coakley, Archbishop of Oklahoma City, today expressed his intention to heed the Holy Father’s call to pray and fast this Saturday in solidarity with the people of Syria and urged the more than 120,000 Catholics of the Archdiocese of Oklahoma City and all men and women of good will in Oklahoma to do the same.

“The recent chemical weapons attack in Syria was an especially shocking and painful reminder of the present unfathomable suffering of the people of that troubled region,” Archbishop Coakley said. “My deepest concern and compassion are with the families of those who died and with the millions of Syrians who have been forced to flee their homeland as a result of the ongoing violent conflict there.

"As we enjoy the blessings of peace in our own country, we cannot forget those who so desperately need our prayers and assistance. From noon to 5 p.m. CST Saturday Sept. 7, Pope Francis will be in Saint Peter’s Square with pilgrims from across the globe. There, they will pray specifically for peace in Syria, the Middle East and around the world. Many Catholics of the Archdiocese of Oklahoma City will be spiritually present in Saint Peter’s Square, as well, and I urge all men and women of good will in Oklahoma to join us as we pray and fast for peace.

"Through our prayers and especially through our fasting, which reminds us of our utter dependence on God for the gift of peace and places us in solidarity with the people of Syria, we hope to offer some measure of spiritual consolation and encouragement to those who begin to fear their hopes for peace are in vain.”

Earlier in the week, the Reverend William Novak, Vicar General of the Archdiocese of Oklahoma City, sent an email to the priests of the archdiocese to urge them to respond to the call to prayer and fasting.

“Whatever you can do to create awareness and prayerful support of peace is greatly appreciated,” Father Novak wrote. “Thank you for your kind attention to this urgent appeal of our Holy Father.”

In response, many priests scheduled specific times of prayer at their parishes. At Saint Andrew’s in Moore, Okla., for example, parishioners will gather for a public rosary at 12:15 p.m. and for a Mass for peace in Syria at 5 p.m. At Saint Francis Xavier parish in Enid, Okla., parishioners will gather for a prayer vigil from 7 p.m. to 8 p.m.

The Reverend Stephen Hamilton, pastor of Saint Monica’s parish in Edmond, Okla., asked his parishioners to “treat this Saturday as you would Ash Wednesday.”

“Violence and war should never be taken lightly and, though at times war can be morally justified, it is always a sad development whose human toll amasses more in the loss column than the victory column,” Father Hamilton wrote in an email to parishioners. “The threat of violence and war is an abyss whose depth can be matched perhaps only by the depth from which our hearts long for peace and stability. Lives cut short because of violence and the specter of chemical weaponry leave us horrified.”

At the urging of their pastors, Catholics across the archdiocese will consider the noon emergency siren as a reminder to pray for peace and will recite the words of “A Prayer for Peace in Syria,” available at http://www.usccb.org/prayer-and-worship/prayers/prayer-for-peace-in-syria.cfm, at that time.

More information about the response of the Catholic Church to the crisis in Syria is available at http://www.usccb.org. In addition, Catholic Relief Services is on the ground in the region aiding Syrian refugees in neighboring countries. For more information or to donate, visit http://emergencies.crs.org.

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