- The Washington Times - Thursday, March 6, 2003

Pope John Paul II's plea for Christians to fast for peace yesterday was received with enthusiasm by many Washington Catholics.
While his envoy, Cardinal Pio Laghi, met with President Bush at the White House, rank-and-file Catholics in churches all over the city were having their foreheads daubed with ashes to signify penitence for their sins. Several worshippers at the Catholic Information Center downtown said they were skipping meals to honor the pope's request.
"The Holy Father is very concerned about this," said the Rev. C. John McCloskey, director of the center. "He's calling for us in a special way to pray for peace."
"Our pope has asked us to pray for a peaceful resolution for several political problems," said Robert Brown, a cashier at the center who said he was fasting. "Peace is the intention he's specifically asked us to pray for."
"I don't want any war," said Estela Vallarta, a Fort Washington resident who attended a noon Mass at the center. "If the Holy Father wants it, we fast for peace."
The pope asked for a day of prayer and fasting to coincide with Ash Wednesday, which kicks off Lent, a 40-day season of penitence that precedes Easter on April 20 this year. Although Father McCloskey mentioned the pope's plea to fast for peace yesterday during Masses at the center, John Paul's plea, he said, to specifically pray for peace was made too late to be announced at Sunday Masses around the world. Thus, many Catholics were not aware of the request.
John Burke, an usher at St. Patrick's Catholic Church downtown, knew of the pope's words and said he was "absolutely" determined to fast for peace.
"The last time I was this concerned about war was in the 1960s, when I was a draftee," he said. Mr. Burke said he went to officer candidate school but served out his military career in this country. Still, he added, he is concerned with the fate of younger military men who are now in the Middle East.
Pax Christi USA, a national Catholic peace movement of 14,000 members, closed its Erie, Pa., offices today specifically to follow the pope's directions to fast, a taped message said. Its British equivalent staged a liturgy of penance and a demonstration of "Ash Wednesday Repentance and Resistance to Nuclear War Preparations" at Embankement Gardens in London.
Rose Berger, an associate editor of Sojourners magazine in the District and a Catholic, said yesterday she was on a water-only fast.
"Because we are moving so close to war," she said, "that's been my prayer focus; to examine myself for places where there is war within me and to pray into that. Plus, the simple act of drinking water reminds me of the living water we are offered as Christians, plus the need for clean water around the world, particularly for the people in Iraq, whose water supply has been compromised and for whom clean water is a luxury."
She also prays for President Bush, she added, "so he feels he has options and can make decisions that are life-affirming."
Two Protestant groups; the general synod of the Anglican Church in England and the World Council of Churches in Geneva, also called on Christians to fast for peace on Ash Wednesday, Reuters news service reported.
Yesterday was also a "One-Day National Student Strike" against the war, which organizers said involved students at more than 200 U.S. high school and college campuses who left their classes to attend anti-war rallies. Most of the demonstrations, according to wire reports, were scattered and small. Organizers said students also rallied for peace in Britain, Sweden, Spain and Australia.
In Los Angeles, 19 clergy and church members including nuns and priests in cassocks were arrested after they held hands and formed a chain blocking a downtown intersection. Police led the protesters away in handcuffs as about 100 demonstrators on a nearby corner sang John Lennon's "Give Peace a Chance."
In the halls of Congress, a group called "Poets Against the War" handed lawmakers thousands of poems to protest the pending conflict. The group, born out of poet Sam Hamill's refusal in January to attend a poetry symposium with first lady Laura Bush, is planning to publish a book of anti-war poems next month.

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