When Pope Francis issued his call for people to set aside September 7 to fast and pray for peace in Syria, I found myself tempted to dismiss it as a predictable and idealistic response to a disturbingly complex situation. I had to knock down a few cynical arguments in my head (“Right, because God won’t do anything about the situation unless enough people pray and fast!”). Then Saturday rolled around, I had a day at home, and I simply gave myself over to the pope’s intention.
I tuned in to the live broadcast from Vatican TV on YouTube. I wanted to participate in this vigil for peace without commentary or interpretation. I had spent the better part of three days in St. Peter’s Square two years ago, and I had almost a physical memory of the dimensions of the area. I truly felt as though I was gathered with those praying in Rome and around the world.
The music was lovely and understated. The prayers were in Italian rather than the more formal Latin. I opened the iBreviary app on my phone to follow along with the Italian version of the rosary. During the readings from Scripture, I was able to catch enough words to locate the readings in my mental lectionary.
The first thing that struck me was the recitation of the joyful mysteries of the rosary. It seemed incongruous, and yet it was a reminder that Jesus was born into a world similarly troubled by war, oppression, and the misuse of power. The phrase that hit me over the head was from the annunciation story in Luke’s Gospel: “Nothing is impossible with God.”
The line that stayed with me from Pope Francis’s homily was this: “In the silence of the Cross, the uproar of weapons ceases and the language of reconciliation, forgiveness, dialogue, and peace is spoken.”
I realized that fasting and praying aren’t about changing God’s mind or even about changing the circumstances or the outcome. But even more, I realized that as a Christian and a Franciscan, I can’t make a choice for violence. Ever. It was a humbling and yet strangely reassuring thought.
After the adoration of the Eucharist, the reading from John’s Gospel recounted the story of Jesus appearing to the disciples in the Upper Room after the resurrection. The witness of the Church from the beginning is that God can always bring life out of death and destruction.
Photo: Diane M. Houdek