“Parishes and religious communities already pray for peace every day, but it is important that on this day we feel united in the prayer of the entire Christian community.”
Fr. Frans Bouwen, a Belgian missionary and Missionary of Africa who has been working in Jerusalem for over fifty years, offered that perspective from the Holy Land, where he has been actively engaged in ecumenical and interreligious dialogue and directed the renowned magazine “Proche-Orient Chrétien” from 1969 to 2015.
Siding for peace
In an interview with Vatican News’ Delphine Allaire, Fr. Bouwen commented on the Day of prayer, fasting and penance for peace which Pope Francis convened for Friday, 27 October. At 6 p.m., the Pope presides over a prayer vigil in St. Peter’s.
During his General Audience on October 18, he invited “sisters and brothers of the various Christian denominations, those belonging to other religions, and all those who have at heart the cause of peace in the world, to join in as they see fit.” On that occasion, the Pope urged all believers “to take only one side” in the ongoing conflict in the Holy Land, “that of peace with prayer and total dedication.”
Christians in Jerusalem will join in prayer from their homes, as the present circumstances do not allow large gatherings.
This day of prayer “is a sign of participation in the suffering of all victims of the violence, and in particular, at this moment in time, for the tiny Christian community of Gaza,” said Fr. Bouwen.
Ecumenism of witness
According to the missionary, the current war has drawn the 13 Churches of the Holy Land even closer.
Since the war broke out after Hamas’ attack on 7 October, he explained, meetings between the Patriarchs and Heads of the Churches of Jerusalem have intensified, and all Christians have been praying for their brothers and sisters in faith living in the Gaza Strip.
This solidarity was expressed in particular after the bombing of the Greek Orthodox compound of the Church of St. Porphirios, hit by an Israeli airstrike on 19 October.
“Churches have tried to speak with one voice,” said Fr. Bouwen. “Suffering or conflicts often divide, here they unite. It is the ecumenism of witness and common service.”
Asked if, in his opinion, the future of Christians in the Holy Land is at risk, the Belgian missionary remarked that the Christian presence in the region is essential also as “a leaven of reconciliation and peace.”
“With their presence”, he explained, “Christians can facilitate relationships between our Muslim and Jewish brothers, which without them would be more difficult.”
Learning to live together in the Holy Land
Referring to interreligious dialogue in the “Spirit of Assisi” (the Italian city of St. Francis where Pope St. John Paul II convened the first major interreligious meeting on 27 October 1986, ed.), Fr. Bouwen remarked that “living together and mutual acceptance to build a fraternal country” is even more important now than religious dialogue.
“This is particularly true in Jerusalem, a holy city called to be a symbol of universality and which, today, is rather a sign of contradiction,” he said.