MANILA, Philippines – The Catholic Bishops' Conference of the Philippines (CBCP) announced a day of prayer for peace in Iraq on Monday, August 18, as more than 100,000 Christians there flee their homes for fear of persecution.
In a statement Tuesday, August 12, CBCP president Lingayen-Dagupan Archbishop Socrates Villegas requested bishops in the Philippines “to offer all our Masses on August 18 as Votive Mass for Peace and Reconciliation in Iraq.” He requested the bishops to tell their priests to do the same.
He also said it “would be opportune for our school children to be asked to pray the rosary in school” on August 18.
Villegas called for this day of prayer “as a gesture of spiritual unity with our persecuted brethren in northern Iraq and in response to the call of the Holy Father that all the faithful in the whole Church raise a voice of ceaseless prayer for the restoration of peace.”
“Let us be united with Pope Francis in this quest for peace,” he said.
Villegas pointed out that on August 18, Francis will also preside over a Mass for Peace and Reconciliation at the Myeong-dong Cathedral in South Korea, as part of a visit that pays tribute to persecuted Christians. (READ: Pope to kiss persecuted Christians' feet – Tagle)
In South Korea, the Pope will also preside over a beatification ceremony for 124 Korean martyrs and is expected to use his speech to warn of a recent escalation in anti-Christian persecution from Afghanistan to Iraq, Syria, and Somalia.
'Violence conquered with peace'
Condemning violence, the Pope said during the Angelus prayer on July 20: “Our brothers and sisters are persecuted, they are pushed out, forced to leave their homes without the opportunity to take anything with them. To these families and to these people I would like to express my closeness and my steadfast prayer. Dearest brothers and sisters so persecuted, I know how much you suffer; I know that you are deprived of everything. I am with you in your faith in Him who conquered evil!”
He added: “May the God of peace create in all an authentic desire for dialogue and reconciliation. Violence is not conquered with violence. Violence is conquered with peace!”
Chaldean Patriarch Louis Sako told Agence France-Presse in an interview on Thursday, August 7, that religious persecution was worsening in Iraq, saying jihadists who took over large areas of of the north have forced 100,000 Christians to flee and occupied churches, removing crosses and destroying manuscripts.
The Islamic State group, which swept across much of Iraq's Sunni heartland two months ago, has attacked several towns and villages including Qaraqosh, Iraq's largest Christian town with a population of around 50,000. – with reports from Agence France-Presse/Rappler.com
Paterno R. Esmaquel II, news editor of Rappler, specializes in covering religion and foreign affairs. He obtained his MA Journalism degree from Ateneo and later finished MSc Asian Studies (Religions in Plural Societies) at RSIS, Singapore. For story ideas or feedback, email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.