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William Grimm, a native of New York City, is a missioner and presbyter who since 1973 has served in Japan, Hong Kong and Cambodia.
Ten Days of Prayer for Peace
Published: August 12, 2022 03:18 AM
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People release paper lanterns on the Motoyasu River beside the atomic bomb dome to mark the 77th anniversary of the world's first atomic bomb attack in Hiroshima on Aug. 6

People release paper lanterns on the Motoyasu River beside the atomic bomb dome to mark the 77th anniversary of the world's first atomic bomb attack in Hiroshima on Aug. 6. (Photo: Philip Fong/ AFP)

From Aug. 6, the feast of the Transfiguration, to Aug. 15, the feast of the Assumption, the Catholic Church in Japan marks an annual Ten Days of Prayer for Peace.

The practice has nothing to do with the liturgical calendar.

Aug. 6 is the anniversary of the 1945 atomic bombing of Hiroshima. On Aug. 15, Japan’s Emperor Hirohito made a radio broadcast, saying, “After pondering deeply the general trends of the world and the actual conditions obtaining in our empire today, we have decided to effect a settlement of the present situation by resorting to an extraordinary measure.”

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The “extraordinary measure” was surrender, though the emperor did not use the word.

Until the Covid pandemic curtailed most public activities, the Ten Days of Prayer for Peace each year was marked with Masses, prayer services, lectures, seminars, processions and other activities meant to increase awareness of peace and justice issues.

The focus, especially after the first few years, has not been so much on history but instead has emphasized the threats to peace and justice in the world today.

"What does it mean to set aside time for prayers for peace in a time of violence?"

This year, there are many such threats. Of course, the Russian invasion of Ukraine and the ongoing war there is an obvious case.

The “special military operation” (as the Russian ruler Vladimir Putin commands that it be called) has caused tens of thousands of casualties, massive destruction and drawn many Western powers to the aid of Ukraine short of directly engaging in the conflict. The war has curtailed shipments of grain from Ukraine, threatening food supplies in many countries.

In Asia, the military rulers of Myanmar continue a genocidal war against the Rohingya minority in that country. China practices an invasion of Taiwan because an American politician visited there, and those war games envelop some Japanese territory. And there is the ever-present conundrum in northeast Asia: What will North Korea’s Kim Jong-un do to gain attention since he has been superseded by others in the news?

So, what of this year’s Ten Days of Prayer for Peace? What does it mean to set aside time for prayers for peace in a time of violence?

In his message for this year’s observation of the Ten Days, Archbishop Isao Kikuchi of Tokyo, president of the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of Japan, set the theme: “Peace is possible; peace is a duty,” a quote from Pope Francis.

Few, if any, would deny that peace is a duty. But is it possible?

"Since as long back as we can document or even surmise, violence against one another has been a part of us"

Stanley Kubrick’s 1968 film 2001: A Space Odyssey opens with a group of pre-human hominins living on the African veldt in fear and want. Their competition with other bands of the same species takes the form of aggressive displays without physical contact, a common behavior among animals.

One of the bands finds that a bone can be used to kill other animals for food. It is the invention of technology. Almost immediately, the new technology turns into a weapon for intra-species violence. It is the invention of warfare.

There is no way of knowing how accurate the cinematic portrayal is that puts the birth of violence at the root of our evolution. What is certain, however, is that for as long back as we can document or even surmise, violence against one another has been a part of us.

And yet, we long for peace. That longing for something so remote from human experience may, in fact, be a hint of a divine call to duty from beyond our earthly reality.

History and even prehistory teach us that if peace is to ever become the story of humankind, it will not be through our efforts. What peace we have comes from God; what peace we shall have will also come from God. In recognition of that, we pray.

But peace has not come even after prayer.

The various 12-Step programs for people with addictions begin with an admission of powerlessness in the face of addiction. That seems to be our state in the face of humankind’s addiction to violence.

The programs go on to state that only through the help of a “higher power” to which one must entrust oneself can addiction be overcome.

Yet, within that context of relying upon a higher power or God, the programs call for various actions that enable and even constitute cooperation in the recovery process.

Perhaps we should revise St. Augustine’s dictum: “Pray as if everything depended on God. Work as if everything depended on you,” to be “Pray as though everything depended on God. Work as though everything depended upon God but you want to be part of the work.”

And so, during the Ten Days of Prayer for Peace and beyond we pray that God brings the peace we are incapable of building and commit ourselves to be the means by which God does so.

*  The views expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the official editorial position of UCA News.

UCA News Catholic Dioceses in Asia
UCA News Catholic Dioceses in Asia
UCA News Catholic Dioceses in Asia