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December 12 2001

A Day of Fasting in a Spirit of Prayer for Peace in the World and for Spiritual Friendship among Believers

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Pope John Paul II has asked Christians to fast for a day on December the 14th. The Community of Sant’Egidio, wherever it is, deeply joins this day of fasting and gathers in the evening common prayer for peace on that day.

On Sunday 9 December, the Pope said at the Angelus: "In the present complex international situation, mankind is called to mobilise its best energies in order to let love prevail over hatred, peace over war, truth over lie, forgiveness over retaliation." John Paul II added: "Peace or violence germinate from people's heart, only God has the power it. According to this conviction, believers have always used the weapons of fasting and prayer against the hardest dangers, together with concrete gestures of charity."

This invitation appeals on an ancient tradition. Fasting expresses repentance, humiliation before God and request of forgiveness. It shows the detachment from richness and from food. In his being detached, the believer finds his solidarity with the poorest, with those who are starving and needy.

In chapter 58 of the book of the prophet Isaiah, the prophet asks for a fasting which is not a formality. He says:

"This, rather, is the fasting that I wish:
releasing those bound unjustly,
untying the thongs of the yoke;
Setting free the oppressed,
breaking every yoke.
Sharing your bread with the hungry,
sheltering the oppressed and the homeless;
Clothing the naked when you see them,
and not turning your back on your own".

Also Christian communities used to fast, like the Antioch Community which heard the voice of the Holy Spirit, while they were worshipping and fasting (Acts 13:2). Christian tradition often links fast with alms, the gift made to the poorest and the starving people. The appeal to fasting recalls us to back out of the power of things.  

Jesus is the man of fasting in the Gospel, even if he is charged by his opponents not to be a severe man to his disciples. We see him fasting for forty days at the beginning of his public life. And the devil tempted him: "If you are the Son of God, command this stone to become bread." (Luke 4:3). Yet, Jesus shows his resistance to the power of things and of the devil: "It is written, 'One does not live by bread alone.'" (Luke 4:4).  

In this difficult time of struggle and when there are many threatens of violence and terrorism, the fasting of December 14 recalls us to pray the Lord. Might He send away war and violence from the world, eventually granting peace. John Paul II wanted this day of fasting right on Friday December 14, that is the last day of Ramadan. Fasting during Ramadan is a very important practice in Islam (it is one of the five "pillars" of Islamic religion): it is considered as an act of self-control and of obedience to God in the weakness of our bodies. It makes people used to adversities, makes people aware of how much poor people suffer and makes us more compassionate.  

As it is known Ramadan lasts for a month, during it people are not allowed to eat from sun rising to sun set. Muslim cities, which shine of vitality and joy in the evening, when breaking the fasting (iftar), give –especially during Ramadan- a collective witness of faith.

Why did John Paul II want this coincidence of the Catholic fasting day and the end of Ramadan? He wanted to show, in a time of difficult relationships between the West and the Muslim world, that Christians and Muslims are not enemies, they rather have common values, notwithstanding their differences, and in prayer they address one God. Fasting on the same day builds up this spiritual friendship, much more valuable than many words. John Paul II said: "I do wish that the common attitude of religious repentance might increase mutual understanding between Christians and Muslims, who more than ever are nowadays called to be together as builders of justice and peace".

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