BY CAILIN POTAMI
With 100,000 people dead and hundreds of thousands more displaced from their homes, all at the hands of their own leader, the pandemonium affecting Syria has become a worldwide source of contentment, anxiety and fear, leaving the world divided. Pope Francis urged the universal Church to embody a different message — one of solidarity and hope for the future — by coming together Saturday in fast and solemn prayer for an end to the strife in Syria. The University took part in this movement by encouraging students, faculty and staff to participate in the fast and gather for an opening prayer service and a closing Mass.
The prayer service was held in the Sacred Heart Chapel. It brought The University community together at the start of the fast to center them. Participants were to go without food or drink from 1 p.m. to 6 p.m. Participants had the opportunity to gather again in prayer at 5 p.m., this time in the Madonna Della Strada Chapel. The event prompted some students to question the purpose of fasting and prayer, a sentiment which Christian Krokus, Ph.D., of the theology department says he refutes on several levels. In Matthew 17:20-21, Christ Himself expresses the need for fasting and prayer in times of grave suffering. Furthermore, great leaders of history, from George Washington to Martin Luther King Jr., have called for fasting and prayer, for good reason, Krokus said.
“It’s effective,” Krokus said. “Fasting is exhausting and stressful … but people live under these conditions all the time … Look how people have changed.”
Krokus said that fasting can bring students closer to those suffering.
The global Ignatian community takes special interest in the fight for peace in Syria after the General Congregation of the Society of Jesus #32, which declared a commitment to “social justice as a foundation to peace” as well as “dialogue rather than conflict” Krokus said.
A significant Jesuit population lives in Syria, and has made attempts for years to unify and protect the rights of all innocent people in the area. The University has a special, personal relationship with the Jesuits serving in Syria.
Paolo Dall’Oglio, a Jesuit priest, came to speak to the University in 2011 about his work in Syria. He founded a monastery there with the intention of eliminating animosity between Christian and Muslim groups in the area and publically advocated for protestors of President Bashar Al-Assad’s tyranny. His actions resulted in his expulsion from Syria.
After a year of raising awareness about the plight of his peers, he secretly returned in July 2013. He was kidnapped and his fate remains unknown.
The relationship of students and faculty to Dall’Oglio intensifies our tie to those in Syria.
Many members of the community took part in the fast in accordance with their abilities — some avoided food and drink for the entire day, while others did so in correspondence with the prayer service occurring in the Vatican. The experience proved to be exciting and fulfilling for most. Krokus said he received overwhelmingly grateful responses from people who were excited to have a chance to make a difference in a situation that seems so dismal. It proved that even when geographically removed from Syria, people are not totally helpless.
Krokus provided advice for students who wish to continue their advocacy and support of peace in Syria. In addition to continued awareness of global issues, Krokus said he suggested building friendships with people from different backgrounds.
“Friendship,” he said, “is the only force which can withstand these conflicts.”
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