- The Washington Times - Sunday, July 23, 2006

Catholic churches across the region responded yesterday to Pope Benedict XVI’s international call for prayers of peace in the Middle East.

More than 1,100 worshippers attended a noon Mass in the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception in Northeast that was celebrated by Archbishop of Washington Donald W. Wuerl.

“Today we can all be justifiably alarmed that the violence so visible in Lebanon and Israel is qualitatively different from just a year ago because of a new level of weaponry and the wider range of destruction,” the archbishop said.

Archbishop Wuerl met Tuesday in the District with Cardinal Nasrallah P. Sfeir, a leader of the Christian community in Lebanon.

“We came together to pray, to pray for our sisters and brothers in Lebanon, and to pray that God’s grace would touch the hearts of all of those who have the power to bring an end to the suffering, the violence, the division and hatred,” Archbishop Wuerl said.

The pope asked followers Thursday to implore from God the “precious gift of peace” and designated yesterday as a day of prayer and penance for peace in the Middle East.

“The supreme pontiff hopes that prayer will be raised to the Lord for an immediate cease-fire between the sides, for humanitarian corridors to be opened in order to bring help to the suffering people, and for reasonable and responsible negotiations to begin to put an end to objective situations of injustice that exist in that region,” the pope said.

The pope yesterday spoke to about 3,000 people who had gathered outside the chalet where he is vacationing in the Alpine village of Les Combes. He offered sympathy for “the unarmed civilian populations, unjustly struck by this conflict in which they are merely victims, ” the Voice of America reported.

Other news reports said large turnouts were expected in India and in Detroit, which has a large Middle Eastern population, including Arab-Americans and Lebanese-Americans.

Susan Gibbs, a spokeswoman for the Archdiocese of Washington, said the archdiocese sent prayers to the 140 parishes in the region to be included in their services. She also said the Diocese of Arlington sent prayers to its 67 parishes.

Albert Hoeser, of Falls Church, said the Mass at the basilica was a good way to “try to get power with justice.”

Matilde Nucara, traveling in a group from Venice, Italy, called the Mass “moving” and “fantastic.”

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