Washington — In light of the recent political, military and social conflicts taking place around the world, Catholics and other Christians have found reason to come together in faith to pray for world peace and healing.
The 22nd International Week of Prayer and Fasting will take place Sept. 20-28. Organizers are encouraging individuals, families and parishes around the world to participate by fasting, attending daily Mass, prayer services and Holy Hours, going to confession, and praying the rosary and the Divine Mercy chaplet.
Sponsored by the International Prayer and Fasting Coalition, made up of various Catholic and Protestant groups, the nine-day campaign to call for an end to global violence and persecution kicks off in Washington with a eucharistic prayer vigil Sept. 20 at the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception.
Organizers said the campaign's goal is to invoke Mary's help in "changing the course of world events" and to promote "a newfound appreciation for basic human rights" and build "a culture of life."
Maureen Flynn, the coalition's chairperson, said the event began as an effort to promote peace in the world.
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"We felt what was needed in our country was a grass-roots movement of people praying and fasting for the goals of our nation," she told Catholic News Service in a telephone interview Thursday.
This year's observance is significant, she said, pointing to the chaos caused by the Ebola outbreak in West Africa and the continued violence in the Middle East, specifically regarding the militants of the Islamic State.
"There are times when everything has been tried and when people are being slaughtered and we have to defend the defenseless, so that's something we pray that our leaders have guidance on," Flynn said.
The eucharistic prayer vigil is intended to bring together communities of people from all walks of life to pray the rosary together, Flynn said.
The Sept. 20 event will include a Mass to be celebrated by Archbishop Timothy Broglio of the U.S. Archdiocese for the Military Services; a "global living rosary" and confession; and several speakers, including Scott Hahn, professor of theology at Franciscan University of Steubenville, Ohio, and Johnnette Benkovic, founder and president of the Women of Grace apostolate.
"Throughout the country and overseas ... many groups are hosting Holy Hours pledging to pray so many mysteries of the rosary during those nine days and many are pledging to attend Holy Hours and pray for our world," Flynn said.
Several times throughout history, she said, prayer and fasting have influenced world events.
She credited this "spiritual weapon" with setting back the Soviet Union nuclear arms program during a period of the Cold War. Flynn also noted that many saints were known for their fasting rituals, including St. Teresa of Avila and St. Francis of Assisi.
"What we say is you can do more in one day of intense prayer than in years of discussion," she said.
For those who would like to participate in the campaign but cannot attend the kickoff in person, Flynn said there are a number of ways to get involved, including taking a pledge to pray, fast and attend a Holy Hour. Flynn especially wants families to get their children involved as well, she said.
"I just would encourage people to take these nine days and to do something special in your family," she said. "I think there are always different things that people can come up with to encourage our children to start praying the rosary."
By participating in the campaign, Flynn said, she thinks people will gain a greater sense of hope that evil in the world can be turned around.
"This really has taken off in ways that we probably would never have dreamed of. But it's wonderful," she said. "The art of fasting is coming back with Catholics. They're seeing the importance of doing some kind of penance."
Flynn said the power of prayer and fasting is the answer to addressing the problems of the world, and she urged Catholics to utilize "the great treasures that the Catholic church has given us."