Following the appeal by Pope Francis last Thursday and his Angelus message of July 20, the Vatican Secretariat of State has transmitted an urgent message to the world’s Catholic Bishops to respond to the needs of the suffering in Iraq and throughout the Middle East.
In a letter received Friday by Archbishop Paul-André Durocher of Gatineau, president of the Canadian Conference of Catholic Bishops (CCCB), the Bishops of Canada and their local Churches were invited “to unite with the Holy Father in steadfast prayer to invoke the gift of peace from the Holy Spirit.”
In a letter sent earlier on Friday, CCCB President Archbishop Durocher had already invited the Bishops of Canada to encourage their clergy, consecrated persons and all the faithful in their diocese to make an unceasing prayer for peace in Gaza, Iraq, and Syria, as well as throughout the Middle East. The President’s request cited the appeal to all the Church by Pope Francis on August 7 to “raise up with one voice a ceaseless prayer, imploring the Holy Spirit to send the gift of peace.” Also Thursday, Cardinal Thomas Collins, Archbishop of Toronto, issued a statement on the persecution of Iraqi Christians which the Secretary-General of the United Nations, His Excellency Ban Ki-moon, has described as a “crime against humanity”.
Catholic dioceses across Canada are already asking their parishes to include the Middle East situation in the Prayers of the Faithful. In addition, some dioceses are inviting Catholics collaborate with other Canadians in urging members of Parliament to make the Middle East a priority for the Government of Canada. These priorities include doing more to provide Canadian emergency and reconstruction assistance, making it easier for Canadian communities to accept refugees, Canadian participation in international efforts to foster justice and peace in the region, and insisting that the world’s governments and societies respect freedom of conscience and religion as well as the rights of minorities.
In his statement, Cardinal Collins urged the Canadian government “to expand available spaces for Iraqi Christians seeking refuge in our country, and to remove any bureaucratic impediments to their reception.”
In an invitation to the federal government and to all Canadians to “accelerate the process at once,” Cardinal Collins noted that the Archdiocese of Toronto is “the largest Canadian private sponsor of refugees from the region.” He said the Archdiocese stands “ready to welcome more, with parishes mobilized to facilitate sponsorship and settlement at a moment’s notice.”
Following the Cardinal’s statement, the archdiocesan website invited Toronto-area Catholics to join “in prayer and advocacy efforts,” including a peaceful protest in the city’s downtown that is being organized by Catholic, Orthodox and Assyrian churches on Sunday, August 10, and to participate in an interfaith “Prayer for Peace” service with Cardinal Collins on Sunday, September 7, at Toronto’s St. Paul’s Basilica.
The CCCB and Canadian dioceses are also encouraging Catholics to support assistance and development agencies which are collecting funds for the suffering people of Iraq, Gaza and Syria. Three national Catholic agencies are supporting special projects in the region for emergency assistance and reconstruction: the Canadian Catholic Organization for Development and Peace, CNEWA Canada, and Aid to the Church in Need.
In addition to providing dioceses with a list of the special projects these Canadian agencies are sponsoring in the Middle East, the CCCB is also encouraging dioceses and Catholic organizations to use and share the information on the Middle East that is regularly provided by Caritas Internationalis. This international network of over 160 national Catholic charities serves the poor and needy of all faiths throughout the world. It also provides up-to-date reports on the Middle East on its website. These are available in English at http://www.caritas.org/where-we-are/middle-east-north-africa/, and in French at http://www.caritas.org/fr/ou-nous-trouver/mona/.
Other dioceses throughout Canada have also announced projects focusing on the urgent needs of the Middle East. These include:
– An evening prayer vigil in Vancouver on Sunday, August 3, at Sts. Peter and Paul Parish, to which Catholics, Protestants and non-Christians are welcome to pray for peace in Iraq, Syria, Israel, Palestine, and elsewhere in the Middle East, as well as in Ukraine and Russia. The Most Reverend J. Michael Miller, C.S.B., Archbishop of Vancouver, and the Iraqi community in the Archdiocese, are also asking Catholics to fast and pray for peace in Iraq.
– A special Mass in solidarity with Iraq’s Christians, which will be celebrated on Sunday, August 17, at Saint-Sacrement Church, Quebec City. This church is the Sanctuary for Peace of the Archdiocese of Québec. There will be prayer for the Middle East as well as all areas of the world which are living through violence and war.
– The Diocese of Hamilton is organizing a special Mass on October 4, the feast of Saint Francis of Assisi