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Pope prays for God ‘to convert the hearts’ of ISIS terrorists

Pope Francis in St Peter's Square (CNS)

Pray for victims of recent terrorist attacks in Syria and pray that those who sow death and destruction will change their ways, Pope Francis said in an appeal.

At the end of his weekly general audience in St Peter’s Square on May 25, the Pope mentioned a string of attacks to hit “beloved Syria” on May 23, causing the death of “defenceless civilians.”

At least 150 people were killed in separate, but nearly simultaneous explosions in the cities of Jableh and Tartus. Militants of ISIS claimed responsibility for the attacks on the civilian targets, which included a hospital.

Before leading the “Hail Mary,” the Pope asked that everyone pray for the “eternal repose of the victims, solace for the relatives” and that God would “convert the hearts of those who sow death and destruction.”

Also at the audience, the Pope marked International Missing Children’s Day with an appeal to civil and religious leaders to raise people’s awareness and inspire action in protecting vulnerable children.

“It is the duty of everyone to protect children, most of all those exposed to a high risk of exploitation, trafficking and deviant behaviours,” the Pope said.

He added he hoped civil and religious leaders could “rattle” people’s consciences and raise awareness so that no one would be indifferent to the problem of children who are “alone, exploited and removed from their families and social context, children who cannot grow up in peace and look to the future with hope.”

He invited everyone to pray that every missing child would be “returned to the affection of their own loved ones.”

According to the International Centre for Missing and Exploited Children, more than eight million children around the world go missing every year. These children face increased danger of falling victim to abuse, exploitation and illegal activities, it said.

Meanwhile, the Pope also told the faithful in St Peter’s Square that prayer is not a magic wand that fulfills your desires, but it is what helps you keep the faith when you don’t understand God’s will.

Prayer is meant to be “our daily bread, our powerful weapon and the staff for our journey,” he said.

In his catechesis, the Pope talked about the Gospel parable of the persistent widow, who incessantly appealed to a corrupt judge for justice.

Judges at the time were supposed to be filled with the fear of God as they impartially and faithfully upheld the laws of Moses, the Pope said. But the judge in this parable was dishonest and only cared about himself. He had no interest in protecting the rights of the weakest and easily exploited members of society, which included widows, orphans and foreigners, he said.

“Faced with the judge’s indifference, the widow resorted to her only weapon — to keep incessantly pestering him, presenting him with her appeal for justice,” the Pope said.

The judge finally gives in, he said, “not because he is moved by mercy or because his conscience forces him to,” but because of her perseverance. He realises he will never rid himself of her until he delivers a just decision, and so he does, the Pope said.

He said Jesus uses this parable to show that if a widow with no clout or influence could sway an uncaring judge merely through her patient and persistent pleas, then imagine how powerful that same force of prayer is when directed toward a loving, merciful and benevolent God.

Jesus is showing how important and necessary it is to pray tirelessly, all the time and not just every now and then, “when I feel like it,” the Pope said.

“We all experience moments of exhaustion and discouragement, above all when our prayers don’t seem to work,” he added.

Contrary to the stubborn judge, he said, God speedily secures “the rights of his chosen ones who call out to him day and night,” according to the Gospel of St. Luke (18:1-8).

But that doesn’t mean God will respond when “and in the ways that we want. Prayer is not a magic wand,” the Pope said.

When Jesus prayed that his father spare him from “the bitter cup of his passion,” he also put himself fully in God’s hands, asking that the father’s will — not his own — be done.

Jesus shows how prayer is about strengthening one’s relationship with the father — transforming one’s own wishes and conforming them to God’s will, he said.

Prayer “helps us keep our faith in God and to trust him even when we do not understand his will.”

“Prayer is what keeps the faith; without it, faith wavers,” Pope Francis said. And it is in prayer that people experience the compassion of God who comes to his children “filled with merciful love.”