John Paul II Calls for Intense Prayer for World Peace

Reiterates Plea for Ash Wednesday

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VATICAN CITY, MARCH 2, 2003 ( John Paul II made a renewed appeal for prayer and fasting for peace in the world, especially in the Holy Land and Iraq.

He reiterated an announcement he made a week earlier, designating Ash Wednesday as a day of prayer and fasting to avert war and violence.

«This year we will undertake the penitential journey toward Easter with a greater commitment to prayer and fasting for peace, challenged by the growing threat of war,» the Pope said today.

«Peace, in fact, is a gift of God to be invoked with humble and insistent trust,» he stressed.

«Without surrendering before difficulties, it is also necessary to seek and go down every possible avenue to avoid war, which always brings mourning and grave consequences for all,» he said.

This Wednesday’s day of prayer and fasting will be an occasion to pray for «peace in the world, in particular for Iraq and the Holy Land, especially through the recitation of the rosary,» the Holy Father emphasized.

The Marian prayer «will involve shrines and parishes, communities and families. This collective prayer will rise from every part of the earth through the intercession of Mary, Mother of Mercy and Queen of Peace,» the Pope added.

While delivering his message, the Holy Father explained that Lent is a time oriented to conversion of heart, «during which the faithful are invited to look with greater intensity at Christ, who prepares himself to fulfill the supreme sacrifice of the cross.»

John Paul II emphasized the importance of fasting, including interior fasting, a penitential practice with which «the Christian prepares himself to follow Christ,» which «helps to understand better the difficulties and sufferings of so many of our brothers oppressed by hunger, poverty and war,» and moves one to acts of solidarity.

The Pope’s insistence on prayer and fasting is in keeping with the multiple meetings that he and his aides are holding to avoid the outbreak of war against Iraq, and to bring the Holy Land conflict to an end.

Last Thursday the Holy Father received José María Aznar, the head of the Spanish government, to whom he appealed, as he did to others involved in the Iraqi crisis, for peaceful solutions «inspired by international law.»

That same day, during a private meeting in the Vatican, John Paul II and Seyyed Mohammed Reza Khatami, brother and special envoy of the president of Iran, emphasized the need «to safeguard the peace in the Middle East area.»

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