National Day of Prayer for Peace in Our Communities
The word pontiff comes from the Latin word pontifex, meaning bridge builder. During his historic address to Congress last year, Pope Francis was just that, encouraging our political leaders to work together for the common good of all Americans. In his talk, he emphasized that our response to division and strife in our communities must “be one of hope and healing, of peace and justice,” with a renewed spirit of cooperation.
Praising the life and legacy of another bridge builder, the Holy Father said, here “I think of the march which Martin Luther King led from Selma to Montgomery fifty years ago as part of the campaign to fulfill his ‘dream’ of full civil and political rights for African Americans. That dream continues to inspire us all.”
Building bridges is at the heart of the National Day of Prayer for Peace in Our Communities, which dioceses across the country are observing today. This moment to take some time and beseech God for the blessings of peace was called in response to recent incidents of violence and racial tension across the United States.
In announcing the day of prayer and a related bishops’ task force to examine those issues, Archbishop Joseph E. Kurtz of Louisville, Kentucky, the president of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, emphasized the need to build bridges, saying, “By stepping forward to embrace the suffering, through unified, concrete action animated by the love of Christ, we hope to nurture peace and build bridges of communication and mutual aid in our own communities.”
Last year, Bishop Martin Holley – whom Pope Francis recently named as the new bishop of Memphis to our great joy – joined his nephew and other marchers in crossing the Edmund Pettus Bridge from Selma toward Montgomery to mark the 50th anniversary of the famous civil rights march alluded to by the pope in his address to Congress.
Bishop Holley, who has served as an auxiliary bishop of Washington since 2004, noted that the anniversary march, like the historic walk that it commemorated, brought together women and men of all ages, religions and ethnic and racial backgrounds. He was especially inspired to see the participation of many students, from middle schoolers to collegians, joined in solidarity. “They were there unified, (offering) one voice in terms of peace and harmony,” he later said of the experience.
Blessed Pope Paul VI famously said, “If you want peace, work for justice.” Our prayers for peace should motivate us to work for justice in our great country. “A nation can be considered great,” Pope Francis told Congress, “when it fosters a culture which enables people to ‘dream’ of full rights for their brothers and sisters, as Martin Luther King sought to do.”
Pope Francis also praised the legacy of three other great Americans – President Abraham Lincoln, for working so that this nation might have “a new birth of freedom,” Dorothy Day, for her service to the poor and forgotten, and the Trappist monk Father Thomas Merton, for sowing dialogue and peace. All those qualities are needed as our nation confronts the challenges facing us. We honor the legacy of all four of those Americans when we pray together and work to promote educational and job opportunities for the disadvantaged and take steps to reform our criminal justice system and prevent violence.
Our country has experienced so much sorrow these past months. “The need to place ever greater value on the life and dignity of all persons, regardless of their station in life, calls us to a moment of national reflection,” said Archbishop Kurtz following one violent incident. “Let us pray for the comfort of everyone affected and that our national conversation will bear the good fruit of healing and peace.”
The need to come together for prayer and action, to build bridges, is urgent. The bishops’ conference has prepared some suggested prayers for today, including intercessory prayers which can be offered at Mass or in our personal prayer.
As the Church comes together this day, let us pray that a summer of sorrow spurs us to ongoing prayer and action for peace and racial healing and justice. As Christians, we are all called to be bridge builders, joining our earthly lives with our eternal destiny, walking, praying and working together on the journey toward our shared ultimate destination of heaven.