“As Christians this situation obligates us, to intensify your prayer and practice fasting. Prayer and fasting, prayer and penance. This is the moment to do so. I am speaking seriously: intensify your prayer and practice fasting, asking the Lord for mercy and forgiveness.”
Pope Francis made this appeal a few days ago for those suffering in Afghanistan in the wake of the withdrawal of U.S. troops from that country after 20 years of war, the swift takeover by the Taliban, the chaotic attempts at evacuating American citizens and others in danger, and a suicide bombing in the midst of it that killed still more American service men and women.
For us, as American Catholics, this call may echo exactly what has been in many of our hearts. This is the apparent end, with an outcome no one wanted, of the longest war in American history, entered into after terrorists, their leaders hiding out in Afghanistan, murdered thousands of innocents in terrorist attacks in New York City and Washington, D.C., 20 years ago this month, on Sept. 11, 2001 — that terrible, traumatic day.
This sad bookend cannot help but provoke reflection on all that has happened over those two decades, what it all accomplished, and at what staggering, enormous cost, especially the human costs. This war and the others that came in its wake have been the subject of intense disagreement and strong feelings, and after all that, we may feel left with few clear answers.
We are rightly concerned for what all this will mean for the people stuck in Afghanistan. We grieve the suffering and death that seem all too likely to come, and which we can do little now to stop. Our country should do all it can to help those who are able to escape.
So we should, as Pope Francis urges so seriously, turn to God in prayer and penance, begging his mercy and forgiveness and that he will bring his peace both to that war-torn place and to our own troubled land.