Bishop of Plymouth: Use armour of prayer, fasting for Ukraine this Lent
By Lydia O’Kane
Over the last week, the world has seen the destructive power of weapons used on the people of Ukraine. But one bishop is asking the faithful to use the spiritual weapons of prayer, fasting, and almsgiving during Lent to bring comfort to this afflicted population.
The Bishop of Plymouth, Mark O’Toole, is urging all Catholics to go to Mass this Ash Wednesday to pray for peace in Ukraine. His call follows that of Pope Francis to observe 2 March as a Day of Prayer and Fasting for Peace.
In a Pastoral Message to parishes in the Diocese of Plymouth, in southwest England, the bishop, who is also Chair of the Department of Evangelisation and Discipleship at the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of England and Wales, writes that at this time people feel somewhat helpless as the reality of war sinks in.
Speaking to Vatican Radio, Bishop O’Toole said the spiritual weapons we have been graced with can really make a difference.
“Approaching this holy season of Lent and these disciplines which have been given to us of prayer, of fasting, and almsgiving, we can focus in a particular way this Lent to hope to draw down the fruits of God’s grace through the little sacrifices that we undertake for our beloved brothers and sisters who are suffering in this part of our continent.”
“Where there is a lack of love, where there is immense suffering, where there is immense hardship; yes we seek to practically assist but through the weapons of prayer and of fasting we seek to bring God’s grace into those situations,” he observed.
Solidarity and love
Speaking about the “weapon of fasting,” the bishop noted the many sacrifices the people of Ukraine are having imposed on them at the present time. Recalling the terrible scenes of people queuing for hours for food and fuel, he said, “they are having to fast from certain things.” But as an act of solidarity and really of love for those people, the bishop pointed out, “we too can take on some particular fasting, whether it be from food or maybe social entertainment, use of the internet, for those people.”
He went on to say that similarly with prayer, and especially the prayer of the Mass, the faithful are not just united in faith with those in the Church, but they are united “with a community of faith across the globe, and therefore, we can apply our prayers, our intercession, especially to this area which needs an outpouring of Christ’s redemptive love.”
Prayer and fasting for others
Asked if people underestimate the power of prayer and fasting, Bishop O’Toole said that certainly it was undervalued. He went on to say that on a personal level, he has benefited greatly from the prayer and fasting of others, which has in turn given him strength in times of need.
Love thy neighbour
Since the invasion of Ukraine last Thursday, people all over the world have been showing their support. Many have been donating food, clothes, and money to help the afflicted population. The bishop noted that almsgiving “is a very practical and very real way of making present the Lord’s invitation to love your neighbour as yourself.” He also highlighted the work being done by the Church in the form of international aid agencies and vehicles which are working with people in these dire situations. “So we can concretely give money when we’re able,” and give at a local level too.
Drawing closer to Jesus
As Lent begins, Bishop O’Toole is hoping that the faithful will have a sense of drawing closer to Jesus “but also that we can help others to encounter him through the witness that we give and through the generosity that we show through our own prayer, fasting, and almsgiving.”