By Francesca Merlo
In light of the tragedy engulfing Afghanistan, marred by recent attacks and the desperate flight of thousands of people, Pope Francis is once again asking the faithful throughout the world to gather in prayer and to abstain from meals.
He made that appeal during his Sunday Angelus address, which was repeated on his Twitter account @Pontifex. On numerous occasions during his pontificate, the Pope has called for this type of action, in the face of humanitarian tragedies.
“I appeal to everyone to intensify prayer and practise fasting: prayer and fasting, prayer and penance. Now is the time to do it.” Adding emphasis to his appeal, he continued, “I’m serious: Intensify prayer and practice fasting, asking the Lord for mercy and forgiveness.”
Prayer and fasting in the face of humanitarian tragedies
In an interview with Vatican News' Salvatore Cernuzio, Andrea Riccardi, the founder of the Sant'Egidio Community, spoke about the Pope's request for fasting and prayer for the war-torn country.
"Praying and fasting are not at all anachronistic practices, let alone spiritualistic," he says. "On the contrary, I believe that we pray too little for peace in our churches. On Sundays we hardly ever hear prayers for Afghanistan or, for example, for northern Mozambique with 800,000 refugees, or for so many forgotten wars. We pray little for peace." Prayer is a strength, he adds.
Andrea Riccardi notes that there is indeed an urgency to launch these prayer and fasting marathons. "Faced with distant wars, with situations that we do not know how to resolve, it seems as if we cannot do anything and a sense of impotence is created." From this impotence, he warns, "comes indifference".
He notes that Pope Francis has often spoken against the globalisation of indifference. He explains that our indifference comes from the feeling that "we can do nothing" to help.
"Instead," he continues, "I believe that in this global world, every man and woman can do something. If small groups can sow terror, small groups can sow peace. And they can do it through prayer which, together with fasting, which is also detachment from daily life, is a 'revolt' against war, as well as an invocation to the Lord, the Lord of history, so that He may open up paths of peace and arouse, through His spirit, the good will of men, of the powerful, of institutions."
Speaking of the value the Pope's request can have for non-Catholics, and making reference to the Pope's consistent invitation for brothers and sisters of different religious demoninations to unite in prayer, Andrea Riccardi recalls the Pope's meeting in Bari in 2018 as a "purely evangelical image".
"The agreement between 'brothers' can move us, can open a history of peace," he notes. "It is the Spirit of Assisi, the invitation to the prayer for peace, that revolutionary and decisive breakthrough introduced in 1986 by John Paul II: praying together for others, not against each other."
Audience with the Pope
On Monday, Mr. Riccardi met the Pope in a private audience. Regarding his meeting, Mr. Riccardi notes that "the Pope is deeply concerned about Afghanistan; he follows the situation day by day."
However, he adds, the Pope has "not abandoned the dream and the vision of building a new post-Covid world, in which social solidarity goes hand in hand with international solidarity."
"We live with too many emotions linked to the news, often forgetting that we are truly in a historical phase of great change, in which there is an urgent need to build a different world from the one before. And now we are faced with a drama like that of Afghanistan, which calls for spiritual and concrete solidarity in welcoming."
Concluding the interview, Mr. Riccardi urges us to "ask ourselves: what kind of society do we want to build? The societies of walls and fear or the societies of hope and welcome? Hope and welcome that are nourished by prayer."
Prayer, he says, makes us both bold and capable of dreaming up new formulas for living together.