WASHINGTON — On Oct. 18, just over a million children around the world prayed the rosary as part of a global campaign of praying for peace with a particular focus this year on peace in the Holy Land amid the ongoing war in that region.
Tens of thousands of children signed up to pray in the Philippines, Slovakia, and the United Kingdom, and thousands signed up from India, Australia, Argentina, Canada, and Sierra Leone for the campaign promoted by the pontifical foundation Aid to the Church in Need. The foundation said 1,016,675 children participated.
Children in Portugal prayed the rosary at the Chapel of the Apparitions in Fatima that was broadcast live. Brazil also had a live broadcast of children praying the rosary at the Cathedral of Maringá, and Brazilian children also formed a human rosary around the statue of Christ the Redeemer in Rio de Janeiro.
Children also signed up to participate in countries where Christians face tremendous challenges, such as Nicaragua, Nigeria, Qatar, Iran, Pakistan, and Vietnam.
Aid to the Church in Need, with a U.S. office in Brooklyn, prepared prayer leaflets for parishes, children’s groups, and families for the event, with instructions on how to pray the rosary and meditations. The group launched the global rosary campaign in 2005, and partners with the Shrine of Fatima in Portugal, the Pope’s Worldwide Prayer Network, and the World Apostolate of Fatima for the annual event.
A press release about this year’s campaign said that the group chose to dedicate the annual rosary to “healing and protection of the suffering in the Holy Land.”
Although the church aid group is currently prevented from providing humanitarian and pastoral aid to the small Christian community trapped in the Holy Land, Edward Clancy, director of outreach for ACNUSA, said: “We stand ready to do so” and also stressed that prayer is a tool to protect the innocent.
In a statement, he cited the Latin Patriarch of Jerusalem, Archbishop Pierbattista Pizzaballa, who stressed that, although “prayer cannot solve” the conflict, “it gives light to the heart and eyes.”
The archbishop — who offered to take the place of the hostages held by Hamas — believes that fervent prayer has the power to give the faithful caught in the war zone a sense that they are not alone, no matter how dark the situation currently is.
The war that began Oct. 7 after Hamas militants attacked Israel and Israel retaliated has become the deadliest of five Gaza wars for both Israel and Gaza.
During this conflict, Aid to the Church in Need officials have kept in touch with Sister Nabila Saleh, a Sister of the Holy Rosary, at Gaza’s only Catholic parish, the Church of the Holy Family.
She told the church aid group that her community is determined to stay put and not flee toward southern Gaza, as Israel urged civilians to do to not get caught in bombardments and a likely ground invasion.
“We will not go,” said Sister Nabila. “People have nothing, not the basic things; where should we go? To die on the street? We have old people, and people with multiple disabilities and elderly people. We need medicine. Many hospitals are destroyed. Where should we go?”
Father Gabriel Romanelli, a priest at this parish, expressed similar determination and stressed that parishioners have no option but to stay.
Gaza’s Catholics, he said, believe “they are safer with Jesus. And that is why together they pray, they pray, and hope that the Lord will protect them and that the people who are working and praying for peace will change the decision to strike the church which has always been an oasis of peace.”
As the violence continues, Clancy pleaded with donors and friends of Aid to the Church in Need “to pray for peace and for an opportunity to treat the wounded and to begin to restore the lives of all the innocents caught in the violence.”