Nation & World

Aug 13, 1:01 AM EDT

Devoutly Catholic Guam celebrates Mass amid N. Korea threat


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AP Photo/Tassanee Vejpongsa

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TUMON, Guam (AP) -- Across Guam - where nearly everyone is Roman Catholic - priests prayed for peace as residents of the U.S. Pacific island territory faced a missile threat from North Korea.

Archbishop Michael 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. He asked for prayers for "just resolution of differences, and prudence in both speech and action."

Guam's Catholic faithful attended Sunday Mass after several days of dramatic rhetoric between the two nuclear-armed nations. President Donald Trump threatened swift and forceful retaliation against North Korea, declaring the U.S. military "locked and loaded."

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, who is 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 "Lito" P. 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 is a major influence on the devout island where 85 percent of the population is Catholic. The church 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 of about 160,000 people.

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, Guam's capital. 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 X. 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."

--

Jennifer Sinco Kelleher in Honolulu contributed to this report.

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