Catholics in the Archdiocese of Edmonton are being asked to respond with prayer and generosity to victims of conflict in the Middle East, a situation Archbishop Smith described as "heartrending."

Archbishop Smith noted that first among the voices pleading for an end to hostilities and a mobilization of aid is that of the Holy Father. Late last week the Secretary of State issued an invitation on behalf of His Holiness to all Bishops and their Dioceses to unite with Pope Francis in earnest prayer on behalf of our suffering brothers and sisters.

"The Archdiocese of Edmonton is responding to this call with a special Mass for peace in the Middle East," Archbishop Smith announced Tuesday. "It will be celebrated at St. Joseph's Basilica on Wednesday, August 27, at 7 p.m." All parishioners and priests are invited to attend.

The Archbishop has also authorized a special collection to support the work of Catholic agencies working with their partners on the ground in the affected Middle Eastern countries to bring relief to the suffering. Donated monies will be forwarded to two Catholic agencies: the Canadian Catholic Organization for Development and Peace (CCODP), which will forward the funds to various Caritas Internationalis agencies working in the region; and the Catholic Near East Welfare Association – Canada (CNEWA), a pontifical aid agency that has recently launched an emergency appeal on behalf of the more than 100,000 Iraqi Christians currently under threat from extremists in that country. Collections will be taken at the special Mass on August 27, as well as in all parishes on the weekends of September 6-7 and 13-14.

"Thank you for your support," Archbishop Smith said. "Please be sure to pray frequently for the victims of the atrocities, for their families, and for a true and lasting peace throughout the Middle East."

The Pontifical Council for Interreligious Dialogue has also issued a statement deploring the upsurge in violence in Iraq, and calling on religious leaders, those involved in interfaith dialogue and on all men and women of good will, to unequivocally condemn terror in the name of religion.

The Council urges all to unite our voices with that of Pope Francis: "May the God of peace stir up in each one of us a genuine desire for dialogue and reconciliation. Violence is never defeated by violence. Violence is defeated by peace. "

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