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 CNS Story:

PEACE May-8-2006 (590 words) xxxn

New Jersey parish forms 'peace cell,' prays for end to terrorism, war

By Michael Wojcik
Catholic News Service

LINCOLN PARK, N.J. (CNS) -- The words "terror cell" -- a band of terrorists who carry out hateful acts of mass destruction -- bring to mind horrific images of the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks on the U.S. or the bombings in London or Madrid, Spain.

But a group of parishioners at St. Joseph Parish in Lincoln Park is striking back. They're trying to turn the term "terror cell" inside out by forming a "peace cell" and using the Lord's mighty instrument of prayer to promote peace.

Led by four Franciscan Sisters of Peace, about 20 parishioners meet in the church on Sundays at 5 p.m. to pray individually for an end to violence around the world and close to home.

They pray for 24 minutes to represent each hour of the day, said Franciscan Sister Ellen Byrnes, the parish's pastoral associate and director of religious education.

"We want to counter the terror cells, which people are concerned about," said Sister Byrnes, who started the peace cell early in March with her fellow Franciscan Sisters of Peace.

"Our focus is to pray for peace and to trust in the power of prayer," she added. "In this time of fear and terror, the sisters believe that prayer is an untapped source needed in our world."

Sister Byrnes called the peace cell "our simple attempt to come together in the presence of God and to share this time with others. Jesus said, 'Where two or three are gathered, I am in their midst.'"

Each gathering doesn't attract the same 20 congregants; new faces show up each week, she said.

First, the congregants pray individually, saying the rosary, offering silent intentions with folded hands or meditating on Scripture or prayer cards. The gatherings end with Sister Byrnes' recitation of the Prayer of St. Francis.

In the silence of the church recently, Pat Gray, a longtime parishioner, prayed with her St. Joseph Missal, various pamphlets or her rosary. With her husband, Donald, she sometimes sits, quietly praying the Stations of the Cross.

"With all these insurgencies in Iraq, things don't look good," said Gray, the mother of two grown children and three grandchildren and an extraordinary minister of holy Communion, who has been active in various St. Joseph's ministries.

"I also pray for Iran, which at first seemed agreeable" to resolving issues surrounding its plans to develop nuclear power, she told The Beacon, newspaper of the Paterson Diocese. "But then, they changed their minds."

Father Philip LeBeau, St. Joseph's pastor, called the peace cell "a great idea. To get 20 people out on a Sunday is great. It's short, and people come when they can. They get together and pray for peace the way they want to."

The Franciscan Sisters of Peace originally had planned to devote 24 minutes to peace themselves by praying in their convent. Instead, they decided to extend an invitation to the parish.

The concept originated from the sisters' community chapter in Haverstraw, N.Y., Sister Byrnes said. "The Franciscan Sisters of Peace are sent to bring the values of the Gospel, especially justice and peace," she said, adding that the sisters' life of peace is based on contemplative prayer, conversion, poverty and "minority," or humility.

"There aren't enough peaceful people in the world," Gray said. "There's a lot of hatred, jealousy and greed. Peace is the answer to what's going on in the world. I'm focused on prayer. Twenty-four minutes is not too much time to give for peace."


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