Pope, Christian leaders pray for peace, victims of war

By Junno Arocho Esteves

Italy (CNS) — Jesus’ cry of thirst on the cross is heard today in the cries of
innocent victims of war in the world, Pope Francis said.

are called to contemplate Christ in “the voice of the suffering, the
hidden cry of the little innocent ones to whom the light of this world is
denied,” the pope said Sept. 20 at a prayer service in Assisi with other
Christian leaders, including Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew of
Constantinople and Anglican Archbishop Justin Welby of Canterbury.

Far too
often the victims of war “encounter the deafening silence of indifference,
the selfishness of those annoyed at being pestered, the coldness of those who
silence their cry for help with the same ease with which television channels
are changed,” the pope said in his meditation.

The pope
arrived in the morning by helicopter and was whisked away to the Sacred Convent
near the Basilica of St. Francis.

After arriving
in a blue Volkswagen, the pope raised his arms to embrace Patriarch Bartholomew
and, together, the two greeted the other religious leaders present. Archbishop
Welby, Syriac Orthodox Patriarch Ignatius Aphrem II of Antioch and leaders of
the Muslim, Jewish, Hindu and Buddhist communities also welcomed the pope to Assisi.

refugees were among those who greeted the pope, including a young Yezidi woman
from Iraq’s Sinjar district who survived the August 2014 massacre committed by
the Islamic State. “I want to thank you for praying for the Yezidis and
your support for acknowledging our genocide,” she told the pope.

have suffered a lot. I pray, I will pray for you with all my heart,” the
pope said as he placed his hand over his heart.

having lunch with a dozen refugees and victims of war, Pope Francis and the
Christian leaders went to pray in the lower Basilica of St. Francis. Members of other religions went to different locations
in Assisi to offer prayers for peace in their own traditions.

During the solemn celebration,
prayers were offered for countries where violence and conflicts continue to
cause suffering for innocent men, women and children.

One by one, several young men
and women placed lit candles in a round stand as an acolyte read the names
of each country, including Syria, Iraq, Afghanistan, Libya, Nigeria and

The prayer service began with a
Liturgy of the Word, which included a meditation after each reading.

Reflecting on the first reading
from the prophet Isaiah, Archbishop Welby said that the world today “struggles to distinguish between
what something costs and what it is worth.”

this, God responds with “infinite love and mercy” and offers to
receive from him freely because “in God’s economy we are the poorest of
the poor; poorer than ever because we think ourselves rich,” he said.

money and wealth is like the toy money in a children’s game: It may buy goods
in our human economies which seem so powerful, but in the economy of God it is
worthless. We are only truly rich when we accept mercy from God, through Christ
our Savior,” he said.

are called to be rich in God’s mercy by listening to him in the voice of the
poor, by partaking in the Eucharist, by coming to him through his mercy.

are to be those who enable others to be merciful to those with whom they are in
conflict. We are called to be Christ’s voice to the hopeless, calling, ‘come
to the waters’ in a world of drought and despair, giving away with lavish generosity
what we have received in grace-filled mercy,” Archbishop Welby said.

Bartholomew commented on the second reading from the book of Revelation in
which God calls “all who are
thirsty come: all who want it may have the water of life, and have it

Christians from around the world, he said,
answered God’s call in Assisi “to invoke the Lord for the greatest of his
gifts — peace — from him, the king of peace.”

Jesus comes to all who thirst for peace, he
continued. However, Christians must experience an inner conversion in order to
listen to him through “the cry of our neighbor,” to experience a true
conversion and to give prophetic witness through fellowship.

“Then we shall offer living water to
the thirsty, endless water, water of peace to a peaceless world, water that is
prophecy, and all shall listen to Jesus, who will thrice say: ‘Surely I am
coming soon,'” Patriarch Bartholomew said.

In his meditation, Pope Francis reflected
on Jesus’ words on the cross, “I thirst,” which he said was not only
a thirst for water but also for love.

Like St. Francis of Assisi who was upset by
the reality that “love is not loved,” the pope said Christians are
called to contemplate Christ Crucified in those “who thirst for

He also recalled
the example of St. Teresa of Kolkata, who asked that all Missionaries of
Charity houses have Jesus’ words, “I thirst,” inscribed in their
chapels next to the crucifix.

response was to quench Jesus’ thirst for love on the cross through service to
the poorest of the poor,” Pope Francis said. “The Lord’s thirst is
indeed quenched by our compassionate love; he is consoled when, in his name, we
bend down to another’s suffering.”

In response
to Jesus’ thirst, he said, Christians are challenged to hear the cry of
the poor, suffering and the innocent victims of war.

Those who
“live under the threat of bombs” and are forced to flee from their
homes are “the wounded and parched members of his body, he said.
“They thirst.”

However, all
too often they are offered only “the bitter vinegar of rejection.”

Francis called on Christians to be “trees of life that absorb the
contamination of indifference and restore the pure air of love to the

the side of Christ on the cross water flowed, that symbol of the Spirit who
gives life so that, from us, his faithful compassion may flow forth for all who
thirst today,” the pope said.

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Follow Arocho on Twitter: @arochoju.

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