By NICHOLE GOLDEN, Staff Writer | Published September 12, 2013
ATLANTA—The Shrine of the Immaculate Conception in Atlanta opened its doors the afternoon of Sept. 7 for those wanting to pray for peace in Syria—joining other parishes in the archdiocese in a global day of prayer requested by the pope.
Prayer hours at the Shrine were from 1 to 5 p.m. and Msgr. Henry Gracz, pastor, said they had a “sprinkling” of people there.
The Shrine did send out emails about the day of prayer and fasting, and Msgr. Gracz hopes that many more people were participating in their own communities.
In his Sunday, Sept. 1, Angelus in St. Peter’s Square, Pope Francis spoke with heartfelt anguish about the need for peace in the world. The Holy Father proclaimed for all Catholics that Sept. 7 should be a worldwide day of fasting and prayer for peace.
“His phrasing was empowered by the Holy Spirit,” said Msgr. Gracz. “We must be a church of the gospel.”
Pope Francis stated that never has the use of violence brought peace in its wake.
“War begets war, violence begets violence,” said the pope. “It is neither a culture of confrontation nor a culture of conflict which builds harmony within and between peoples, but rather a culture of encounter and a culture of dialogue; this is the only way to peace.”
The worldwide day of prayer and fasting coincided with the vigil of the birth of Mary, Queen of Peace. The pope encouraged others, including fellow Christians, followers of other religions and all people of good will to participate in whatever way they could in the initiative.
The prayers of the faithful at the Shrine’s Masses will continue to include prayers for the suffering people of Syria and for peace in the Middle East.
Patriarch Gregorios III of Antioch and All the East, of Alexandria and of Jerusalem, who is also president of the Assembly of Catholic Hierarchs in Syria, called upon “all our faithful sons and daughters to join in this day of fasting and prayer.” He asked for services and celebrations to be held in union with Pope Francis in the pope’s four-hour prayer service from 7 p.m. to 11 p.m. Sept. 7 in St. Peter’s Square. He also asked that all collections taken during this prayer vigil and on Sunday, Sept. 8, be entirely for the benefit of “Syria’s crisis victims in need and distress.”
The patriarch’s message was shared by Rt. Rev. Archimandrite John Azar, pastor of St. John Chrysostum Melkite Catholic Church in Atlanta, who invited his parishioners to join in the worldwide day of prayer, to light candles at their icon corners in the home and to discuss the cause of peace within their families.
Patriarch Gregorios prayed, asking “Mary to help us to respond to violence, to conflict and to war, with the power of dialogue, reconciliation and love. She is our mother: may she help us to find peace; all of us are her children! Help us, Mary, to overcome this most difficult moment and to dedicate ourselves each day to building in every situation an authentic culture of encounter and peace. Mary, Queen of Peace, pray for us!”
Gretchen Keiser also contributed to this report.