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Guam residents pray for peace

Photo shows a Pukguksong-2 missile during a test launch in North Korea this year. AP

HAGATNA – The Catholic faithful in Guam led prayers for peace yesterday in the shadow of North Korea’s missile threat, with the western Pacific island’s archbishop appealing for “prudence” amid an escalating war of words between the US and Pyongyang.

The largely Catholic territory should pray for a “just resolution of differences, and prudence in both speech and action,” said Archbishop Michael Byrnes, echoing a flurry of international calls for US President Donald Trump to show greater rhetorical restraint.

A “prayers for peace” lunchtime rally in the capital Hagatna drew around 100 people. But despite Guam having become the center of a threatened showdown between the United States and nuclear-armed North Korea, many said they were unfazed.

“I am really not scared because if it’s our time to die it is our time to die,” added Sita Manjaras, 62, a retired teacher from Tamuning.

Father Mike Crisostomo said their response to the threat was to have faith and pray.

“This goes to show to the other worlds, to the other nations and the countries, that Guam may be small, our faith and our trust is big,” he said.

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Dora Salazar, 82, who made the 14-kilometer journey from the village of Mangilao for the peace rally, said she was praying for the North’s leader Kim Jong-Un.

“We pray that God will touch his heart,” she said.

 ‘Fire and fury’

In response to Trump’s threat of “fire and fury,” North Korea has pledged to have plans ready in a matter of days to launch an “enveloping fire” of missiles towards Guam.

At the island’s main church, the Dulce Nombre de Maria Cathedral-Basilica, Father Paul Gofigan told the congregation to be prepared in case North Korea does launch its missiles.

“What would you do if you have only 14 minutes left? The thing to do is pray and reflect,” he said

“Prioritize your life. This is a wake-up call, no matter what happens.”

Trump has been engaged all week in verbal sparring with the North over its weapons and missile programs, declaring Friday that the US military is “locked and loaded.”

He has told Guam Gov. Eddie Calvo that US military was prepared to “ensure the safety and security of the people of Guam.”

While 85 percent of Guam’s 162,000 residents are Catholic, with temperatures hovering around 31 degrees Celsius many locals and tourists preferred to head to the beach rather than church.

“No one feels threatened. Should we? Definitely not,” said Australian tourist Kirstie Bridgement.

“Guam is the most protected island. We feel safer than ever.”

The island houses two large US military bases and is home to more than 6,000 US military personnel.

American tourist Bryan Sanchez said it was difficult to understand the threat “especially with the way culture is like with memes, anything is going to be turned into a joke.

“People just aren’t, I guess, as aggressive or too worried about that kind of stuff in our day and age.”

Meanwhile, two community groups opposed to the presence of the US military in Guam, Independent Guahan and Prutehi Litekyan, have organized a “People for Peace” rally in Hagatna on Monday.

“What’s happening in Guam is a global issue, because if our island is attacked, it could be the catalyst for a global catastrophe,” Kenneth Gofigan Kuper of the Independent Guahan movement said.

The rally organizers said in a statement that “Guam has been forced in the middle of other nations’ conflicts, particularly as an unincorporated territory of the United States.

“As a result, many of Guam’s people know the painful and horrific effects of war as World II survivors and as veterans.

“Thus, the members of Independent Guahan and Prutehi Litekyan, both organizations dedicated to the decolonization and demilitarization of Guam, feel it is imperative for the community to stand together in a call for peace.”

More masses for peace

Archbishop Byrnes instructed priests in Guam’s 26 churches to offer prayers for peace between the two nations and courage for military forces on the island.

There hasn’t been any widespread anxiety among Guam residents, even after Pyongyang vowed to complete a plan to attack waters near the island by mid-August.

Monte Mesa, vice-chairman of the Guam Visitors Bureau, said the mass at Blessed Diego de San Vitores Catholic Church in Tumon was comforting. He said after the crowded mass the message from the readings and the gospel “tell our people that God is in control of what is happening and if we have faith and believe in God all this rhetoric and war possibility here on Guam will be taken care of by God.”

The Rev. Jose Antonio Abad said during the Mass that he woke up Wednesday morning reading the breaking news on his phone that Guam was a missile target from North Korea. He felt anxious, he told the congregation during his homily, but that saying prayers gave him peace. He asked his parishioners to pray that God will give them strength.

The church, a major influence on the devout island, is grappling with numerous lawsuits alleging sex abuse in a growing scandal that has rocked the tiny island where Catholicism is deeply woven into the Spanish-influenced culture.

The Archdiocese of Agana invited people to a noon rosary prayer rally, where hundreds gathered under an overcast sky at the ruins of the old Spanish government palace in the heart of Hagatna.

Rallies are being held across the world in commemoration of Our Lady of Fatima’s appearance to three shepherd children, 100 years ago in Fatima, Portugal. “Praying for peace in our world and conversion of sinners is very much a part of the messages Our Lady imparted to the children in her appearances at Fatima,” the archdiocese said in a statement.

Nikky Flores, a member of the Catholic Daughters of America, said the prayers offered during the rally were “totally significant especially because of this threat. We all come together and pray. We really are very hopeful that it will not come,” she said of the missile threat.

The Rev. Francis Hezel, assistant pastor at Santa Barbara Catholic Church in Dededo, said he hasn’t heard of parishioners seeking comfort from the church amid the North Korea threat.

“It’s business as usual with this dark cloud hovering over us for sure,” he said. “I don’t think they’ll be trembling with fear.”

Hezel noted that Guam is familiar with the threats.

“The people of Guam are used to standing in a perilous position,” he said. “That’s the peril and the promise of the place.”

–AFP, AP

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