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Who ended the Syrian Crisis, Putin or Pope Francis? Reflections on the Pope's Peace Vigil in St. Peter's Square

By       Message Mike Rivage-Seul     Permalink
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From St Peter's Square at night
St Peter's Square at night by micahcraig

The sudden success of the "Putin Plan" to end the chemical weapons crisis in Syria has occasioned a crisis of faith for me. But even more so has the "Francis Plan" addressing the same crisis and executed last Saturday in St. Peter's Square. The plan involved Christians and others of good will fasting and praying to end the impending Syrian catastrophe. I wonder whose plan did most to resolve the crisis. Together their apparent effectiveness has made me re-examine my skepticism about miracles and the power of prayer.

Of course, everyone knows about Putin's plan to have Syria turn over its chemical weapons to U.N. monitors for purposes of the weapons' destruction. Ironically, its acceptance by Syria and even by war hawks in the United States has caused Putin's image as a diplomat and peacemaker to skyrocket. That coupled with his defiance of President Obama in the Edward Snowden case, has raised beyond measure his international standing as a defender of human rights.   (Meanwhile the Christian "leader of the free world" has shrunk to the size of a shallow militarist who must be restrained by atheists and former communists now occupying the higher ground.)

However, from a faith perspective, I'm thinking that the plan of Pope Bergoglio may have been even more influential than Putin's. At the very least, the pope's contribution to solving the Syrian crisis suggests that there might be more to the man than first met the eye. After all, in the case of Syria, the pope went beyond simply wringing his hands over the irrationality and counter-productivity of Obama's rash proposals. (That's what other popes have occasionally done in cases of other wars of aggression by other U.S. presidents.)  

Instead, Francis called people out into the streets. He hosted and led what amounted to a 5 - hour anti-war demonstration in St. Peter's Square. Without ever mentioning Obama's name or referring specifically to the United States, he asked people of good will throughout the world to similarly demonstrate wherever they might be. By the tens of thousands they responded in St. Peter's Square. By the millions they responded across the planet. In other words, pope Francis did a great deal to mobilize "the Second Super Power."

I know about the Rome demonstration, because I was there. My wife, Peggy and I just happened to be in the Eternal City last Saturday. We took the occasion to join with perhaps 100,000 other believers for that evening-long prayer vigil led by Francis I. Our overwhelming numbers filled the huge historic square in an inspiring demonstration of deep and sincere faith.  

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We prayed that the United States would come to its senses and realize (as Pope Francis put it) that violence only begets violence, and war only begets war. There is no other way to peace, he reminded us, than by forgiveness, reconciliation, and a dialog that respectfully includes all stakeholders. That means the al-Assad government, its opponents, al-Qaeda, Iran, and (representing the rest of the world) the United Nations. (Let's face it: apart from its membership in the U.N., the United States is not a real stake holder in this conflict so distant from its shores.)

So there we stood for hours praying the rosary together, listening to readings from Holy Scripture and the writings of St. Theresa of the Child Jesus. We recited litanies, sang familiar hymns, listened to those words from the pope, and passed long minutes of quiet meditation and personal prayer. (It was amazing to experience so many people being so quiet for so long.) Preceding Benediction of the Blessed Sacrament, a harpist played, and choirs chanted. On huge TV screens, we saw the pope's eyes tightly closed in prayer. We saw cardinals, bishops, priests, nuns, rich and poor, men and women, young and old, praying for peace. The vigil lasted from 7:15 p.m. till midnight. It was entirely inspiring and uplifting.

And it apparently had its effect. I awoke Monday morning to find that President Putin had upstaged the Obama administration with (of all things!) a diplomatic proposal to replace the Obama policy of bombing as a first resort.

Imagine that: a "leader" from a country emerging from nearly a century of communism and official atheism making a peace proposal completely in tune with the pope's wishes and what we were praying for in St.   Peter's Square. And this in the face of the bellicose threats of a Christian presiding over a country where the majority claims to follow Jesus of Nazareth!

Had our prayers been answered? Have we witnessed a miracle?

If by that term we mean the sudden occurrence of a seemingly impossible good, I believe we may have.

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Mike Rivage-Seul is a liberation theologian and former Roman Catholic priest. Recently retired, he taught at Berea College in Kentucky for 36 years where he directed Berea's Peace and Social Justice Studies Program.Mike blogs (more...)

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