If my memory serves me correctly, it was Father Meinrad Brune, OSB, who is the Oblate Director at St. Meinrad Archabbey and School of Theology, who once shared with me and other oblates during a meeting many years ago a story that when he was a boy growing up in Indiana during the Second World War, he would often see and hear military cargo planes flying overhead when he and his siblings were going to school or playing outside. As a prayer exercise, Father Meinrad said that his mother recommended that every time he would hear one of these aircraft flying overhead, he should say “Queen of Peace, pray for us.” It was a time of global conflict, and Pope Pius XII was asking Catholics and people of goodwill everywhere to pray for the intercession of the Blessed Virgin Mary to bring peace to a world at war.
Our present Holy Father, somewhat like Pius XII, similarly finds himself dealing with an emergent global crisis shortly after ascending to the Chair of Peter. The situation in Syria doesn’t seem quite as serious as Europe on the brink of World War II, but as the Chaldean Catholic Bishop of Aleppo in Syria said on Vatican Radio this past week, it has the potential to get that serious very quickly. To the surprise of many, Bishop Antoine Audo has publicly said that he believes that outside intervention in his country may lead to a world war. He also told Vatican Radio that many people of all faiths in Aleppo, where he leads the local Church, are starving.
Meanwhile, our President has said that he is considering the use of force against the Syrian regime, which is reported to have used chemical weapons on its own people. A close ally of the Assad regime is Russia, a nuclear power that has not traditionally been a friend of the United States in modern times until relatively recently. Pope Francis has spoken out forcefully against war in the region, begging the antagonists to stop. So concerned is the Holy Father about the Syrian situation that he has declared a worldwide Vigil for Peace on Saturday evening, September 7th, the Vigil of the Feast of the Birth of the Blessed Virgin Mary (September 8th).
Regardless of what your personal political feelings are about the best way to deal with the situation in Syria or what the reaction of our own country should or should not be to the Assad regime and to the civil war there, it cannot be denied that the possibility of the use of military force in the region is a serious decision that could have global consequences beyond the Middle East because of the potential international players involved. The Holy Father has said that his heart is “anguished because of the dramatic developments which are looming.”
It should be emphasized that when Church leadership, whether it be Pope Francis, the Syrian bishops, the U.S. bishops, or bishops elsewhere in the world say that they are praying for peace and they beg world leaders to enter a path which might negotiate peace, they are praying and acting for something far more than merely “the absence of war.” Yes, the Holy Father and other Church leaders clearly want the immediate fighting and the needless killing to end, but they all know that the mere stoppage of the fighting without a real settlement for a fair and equitable peace will only leave open a festering sore that would likely become infected with the kinds of animosities and hatreds that cause a “cold peace” to quickly degenerate into hot shooting.
The desire of Church leaders for peace (cf. Matthew 5:9) is not mere pious pontification, but comes from centuries of experience in dealing with, and sometimes even participating in the horrors of war. Further, Pope Francis knows that even a negotiated peace settlement in the Syrian situation or any number of world conflicts does not bring real peace to that region or the world. Real peace can only come when people decide that they desire peace, and real peace can’t come at the sacrifice of the God-given liberties of people, either, especially the freedom of religion
Next year, the world will commemorate the 100th Anniversary of the assassination of Archduke Franz Ferdinand of Austria and the beginning of the First World War. Many historians believe that the problems of the Middle East today date from the failure of the peace settlement in that conflict to resolve the questions of the region. Just as Pope Francis is urging us to pray for peace today, Pope Benedict XV asked people to pray for peace as Great War came to fruition, and he would later launch an ultimately unsuccessful attempt to mediate a peace between the major warring powers.
Benedict XV’s efforts showed that the Church’s direct efforts to bring about peace can only go so far, and at the end of the day, belligerent powers have to be willing to negotiate for peace, and to decide that the deaths of so many people who are guilty of no crime except being born in a certain place at a certain time are not worth a violent struggle that will likely not settle a conflict at all. That means that the most important thing we can do for the sake of peace is to pray.
Pray for our President, for his cabinet, and for the military commanders who will make decisions in the coming weeks that could impact the state of the world for years to come, and for members of Congress, who for our own country may hold the question of war in their hands.
Pray for our servicemen and women in uniform who could be sent into harm’s way in that volatile part of the world.
Pray for the people of Syria who are suffering so terribly, most through no fault of their own, especially the children.
Pray for the Church in Syria. Many Christians there have lost their homes, churches, and livelihoods to atrocities committed by both sides in the conflict. The Christians in Syria and throughout the Middle East are so often overlooked and dismissed by the rest of the world. Remember that these lands are, quite literally, the birthplace of nearly everything that we believe as Christians.
Pray that the major powers who might be disposed to descend in conflict on that part of the world as a result of the Syrian crisis will not wage war, and will not be disposed to use the terrible weapons of mass destruction which they have at their disposal.
Pray that what peace may come is a real peace, not a peace of the moment, or a manufactured and reluctant peace.
Our Lady, Queen of Peace, intercede for us. Amen