Catholics called to pray, take action to bring about peace - Catholic Courier
A crowd of people are behind a banner that bears the word “ceasefire.”

People demonstrate outside the U.S Capitol in Washington Oct. 18 as part of a protest on Capitol Hill calling for a ceasefire in Gaza. (OSV News photo by Leah Millis/Reuters)

Catholics called to pray, take action to bring about peace

While Christmas cards, television commercials and carols on the radio proclaim a season of peace on earth and goodwill to men, news reports from Ukraine and the Holy Land paint a very different picture of a world shattered by violence and war.

“I think we look at everything that’s happening around the world and think, ‘What can I do here in Rochester, New York, that can stop the war in Israel or Ukraine or anywhere else in the world?” remarked Marcus Ebenhoe, director of advocacy and parish social ministry for Catholic Charities Family and Community Services in Rochester.

“As we sit here so far away from where the conflicts are happening, it’s easy to feel helpless and hopeless,” agreed Laurie Konwinski, justice-and-peace coordinator for Catholic Charities of Tompkins/Tioga.

Yet Catholics are called to be peacemakers, even if they’re not in positions of authority or political power, she said.

“That’s very much an essential part of who we are as Catholics,” Konwinski added.

How can Catholics work to bring about peace?

So what is a Catholic to do? What can one individual do to bring about peace, especially in the face of such widespread violence and war?

A good first step, Konwinski said, is to slow down and acknowledge feelings of helplessness or despair.

“I think it’s good to mourn a little bit and to allow ourselves to feel the frustration and the sadness at what’s happening,” she said. “Try to humanize those statistics coming out of Ukraine and Gaza. Remember that everyone is our brother and sister. Everyone is a child of God.”

When we disregard the humanity of a particular group of people and classify them as an enemy, we’re more likely to overlook or even support war or violence against the members of that group, she said. When we see other people as “less than” us, we’re less likely to listen to those people, Ebenhoe agreed.

“When we don’t listen to people, we are more likely to see them as threats. When we’re threatened, we’re more likely to respond with violence,” he added.

If we want to short-circuit that downward spiral, Konwinski said, we need to reach out to people who don’t think like us, pray like us or look like us.

“Try to bridge the divide, and try to be civil,” she said.

Ebenhoe: First, find peace within yourself

Instead of perpetuating a cycle of violence and hostility, Catholics are called to set a different chain of events into motion, Ebenhoe said, noting that such a virtuous cycle sometimes starts with looking inward. When we’re gentle with ourselves — even if that means acknowledging mistakes we’ve made — we’re more likely to show compassion to others, he said. This, in turn, frees others to show compassion to us and everyone else they encounter.

“It creates a ripple effect. Soon, our families, our neighborhood, our community can become a more peaceful place,” Ebenhoe said. “I feel like it all comes back to finding peace within ourselves and hoping (peace) can build off of that and kind of spread.”

Moreover, the importance of prayer cannot be understated, added Dan Finlay, who with his wife, Linda, has been active in the peace movement for several decades. The Finlays, who belong to St. Catherine of Siena Parish in Ithaca, said they were greatly influenced by such Catholic scholars and activists as Father Thomas Merton, Dorothy Day and Father Daniel Berrigan, who all believed in the power of prayer.

“You have to have a solid basis in your prayer life to really act with love and compassion. Out of prayer comes action,” Dan Finlay said.

Even small actions can bring about hope and peace

An easy way for Catholics to take action, Linda Finlay said, is to become involved with their parishes’ justice-and-peace ministries. Another good option is to find and join a group such as a soup kitchen or food pantry that is working to help others, she suggested. When people work together to serve others, they build community, and that’s where hope comes from, she said.

Civil disobedience can be another way to work for peace, Dan Finlay said. Decades ago, he demonstrated his opposition to war by turning in his draft card during the Vietnam War, and Linda Finlay was arrested for protesting at the former Griffiss Air Force Base in Rome N.Y.

“Over the years, we did civil disobedience many times, taking turns because we had children, but never doing anything that would land us in jail for a long time,” Linda Finlay said. “These things are within the realm of possibility for very ordinary people, which we are.”

Acts of civil disobedience make the public aware of issues of concern and how they can take action, she added. The Finlays are involved with a group that has conducted a peace vigil at a busy Ithaca intersection every Saturday morning for the last 20 years. Recently, the vigil has attracted new participants who don’t share the political views of the original group members but nonetheless are opposed to war, Linda Finlay said.

“People are coming together and standing together,” she said.

Tags: Faith in Action, Israel-Hamas War, Life Issues, NY Catholics, War in Ukraine
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