Several years ago whilst I was visiting my parents in Italy, my father and I watched a biopic of Pope John XXIII. The drama covered the Cuban missile crisis, something that came to a head a few months before I was born, but which, for me, had always felt like a remote historial event. The War, which my parents regularly talked about, seemed much closer, although it had been two decades earlier! But now, for the first time, my father told me how it had felt to live during that crisis, with the very real, deep and constant fear of imminent annihalation.
As the world stood poised on the brink of destruction Pope John XXIII sent a message to both the US and Soviet embassies, then read it out on Vatican Radio:
We beg all governments not to remain deaf to this cry of humanity. That they do all that is in their power to save peace. They will thus spare the world from the horrors of a war whose terrifying consequences no one can predict. That they continue discussions, as this loyal and open behaviour has great value as a witness of everyone’s conscience and before history. Promoting, favouring, accepting conversations, at all levels and in any time, is a rule of wisdom and prudence which attracts the blessings of heaven and earth.
Incredibly, against all rational expectation, the world pulled back from the brink... (You can read a fuller account of this here...)
I am reminded of this intervention by Pope Francis' call for a worldwide day of fasting and prayer for peace in Syria, the Middle East and throughout the world. To some it may seem like an old-fashioned, naive, non-rational solution to a modern-day horror... and yet, as Tennyson wrote More things are wrought by prayer than this world dreams of... Part of the mystery of the Cross is that there is untold strength in what can appear weak - in quietness and non-violence - and quiet, trust-filled prayer is a large part of that.
We beg all governments not to remain deaf to this cry of humanity... We know that God is most certainly not deaf to the anguished cry of humanity; on Saturday we will pray very fervently that governments, too - especially in Syria - will also hear and be moved to save peace.