01 Nov 2023
Praying for peace in the Holy Land
People of faith were encouraged to continue to ‘pray and build friendships’ as they gathered for an ecumenical service calling for peace in Israel and the Palestinian territories.
Held in St Francis Xavier’s Cathedral on October 18, the prayer service was attended by the Governor of SA, the Hon Frances Adamson AC, and brought together about 100 faithful from several Christian churches including Catholic, Lutheran, Uniting Church and Greek Orthodox.
Guests were welcomed by Vicar General Fr Dean Marin who spoke of the importance of being “united in faith and prayer” and a call for peace in the world.
Leading the opening prayer, Rev Anne Hewitt, ecumenical facilitator and executive officer of Churches Together SA, remembered all the victims of violence in the world.
“We especially pray for the innocent victims of violence and terrorism in Israel and Gaza. We remember all families that have been shattered by what unfolds in this part of the world.
“We plead to you, God of light and truth, to bring forward leaders – in the Middle East, Ukraine, Russia, Africa and other parts of our world – who can broker peaceful solutions to enhance the dignity of all, bring about healing and ensure resolutions that are fair and just for all.”
Rev Hewitt said that by participating in the prayer service, they were joining people around the world who were doing the same.
“In the midst of terror and strife in areas of conflict, love still prevails, peace still prevails. There is hope,” she said.
In a symbolic gesture, on arrival at the Cathedral attendees were each handed a gum leaf from a manna gum that Rev Hewitt said had weathered a “violent storm”.
“In the midst of a still and quiet morning, it encountered winds, thunder, lightning and hail, all in 10 minutes. Unexpected sweeping change in a matter of minutes. From these fallen boughs we gather the leaves,” she said.
People were invited to place their gum leaf in a large container of wood chips at the front of the Cathedral and later, in another show of solidarity, members of the congregation lit a ‘candle of hope’ and silently prayed for peace.
In his homily, Lockleys parish priest Fr Michael Trainor, who is also vice president of the International Council of Christians and Jews, co-chair of the Uniting Church-Roman Catholic Dialogue of SA and a senior lecturer in biblical studies at the Australian Catholic University, spoke of his many visits to the Holy Land, the most recent only a couple of months ago.
He recounted receiving a What’sApp message from the Israeli tour guide following the devastating events in Israel and Gaza.
“His sadness was palpable,” Fr Trainor told the gathering.
“What has happened is unprecedented and no words can describe the tragedies that people in Israel and Gaza are experiencing. We heard today the bombing of the hospital…we are in a world of tragedy.”
Fr Trainor said he was sometimes asked why pray, as it “doesn’t seem to do any good”, and reflected on three things that had emerged to him in recent weeks that reinforced the need to pray in troubled times.
He related an article written by journalist Katie Prejean McGrady in the international newspaper
La Croix, in which she suggested that rather than devouring the news we should be “praying the news”.
“She wrote, ‘the human heart can only hold so much tragedy and horror. Maybe reading and consuming the news is the entirely wrong approach. Maybe we’re meant to ‘pray the news’…praying the news is realising that the most significant thing we can do when we’re so far removed from tragedy is asking the Lord to give us a heart to feel, eyes to see, and a mind to understand’.”
Fr Trainor said Algiers Archbishop Jean-Paul Vesco OP, speaking from a Muslim context about the tragedies unfolding, encouraged ongoing prayer and the importance of building friendships.
“He said we need to be ‘aware of our powerlessness to influence a conflict that is holding the world hostage, and at the same time being aware of our ability to take concrete action to prevent this evil from spreading. There are two ways: prayer and relationships’.”
Picture: FLAME OF HOPE: Sr Iluminata Antolovic lights a candle at the ecumenical service in St Francis Xavier’s Cathedral. Photo: Ben Macmahon