Pope Francis led a massive, reverent crowd in praying for peace this evening in St. Peter's Square.

Last Sunday, he declared today a Day of Fasting and Prayer for Peace in Syria and throughout the world. The response to his request was global, with religious leaders from the Middle East and all around the world -- including the Grand Mufti of Syria, Ahmad Badreddin Hassou, the spiritual leader of Sunni Islam in Syria -- welcoming the initiative.

The four-hour service in the Vatican included the praying of the rosary, and silent time of Eucharistic adoration. The crowd was estimated at more than 100,000.

Francis offered a reflection, in which he exhorted us to ask ourselves the question, "Am I really my brother’s keeper?"

"Yes, you are your brother’s keeper! To be human means to care for one another," he exclaimed in response.

The Holy Father said that "we bring about the rebirth of Cain in every act of violence and in every war. All of us! And even today we continue this history of conflict between brothers, even today we raise our hands against our brother. Even today, we let ourselves be guided by idols, by selfishness, by our own interests, and this attitude persists. We have perfected our weapons, our conscience has fallen asleep, and we have sharpened our ideas to justify ourselves. As if it were normal, we continue to sow destruction, pain, death! Violence and war lead only to death, they speak of death! Violence and war are the language of death!"


Francis then asked if it is possible to break this chain of violence, to "get out of this spiral of sorrow and death? Can we learn once again to walk and live in the ways of peace?"

He responded that invoking God's help and Mary's intercession, "I say: Yes, it is possible for everyone! From every corner of the world tonight, I would like to hear us cry out: Yes, it is possible for everyone! Or even better, I would like for each one of us, from the least to the greatest, including those called to govern nations, to respond: Yes, we want it!"

"My Christian faith urges me to look to the Cross," he continued. "How I wish that all men and women of good will would look to the Cross if only for a moment! There, we can see God’s reply: violence is not answered with violence, death is not answered with the language of death. In the silence of the Cross, the uproar of weapons ceases and the language of reconciliation, forgiveness, dialogue, and peace is spoken."

Stay your hand

Francis said he prayed that all people would cry out, "violence and war are never the way to peace!"

He asked that everyone would look into their consciences, overcome indifference, conquer "deadly reasoning" and be open to dialogue and reconciliation. 

"Look upon your brother’s sorrow – I think of the children: look upon these… look at the sorrow of your brother, stay your hand and do not add to it, rebuild the harmony that has been shattered; and all this achieved not by conflict but by encounter," he pleaded. "May the noise of weapons cease! War always marks the failure of peace, it is always a defeat for humanity. Let the words of Pope Paul VI resound again: 'No more one against the other, no more, never! ... war never again, never again war!'" 

From the heart

This is how the vigil proceeded:

5:45 pm (Rome time) — About 50 priests began hearing confession in designated areas under the Bernini colonnades. Pope Francis asked that the Sacrament of Reconciliation (Confession) be made available throughout the evening because “true peace springs from a heart that is reconciled with God and one’s brothers and sisters.”

6:30 pm — Pope Francis' Sept. 1 Angelus address in which he called for the Day of Prayer and Fasting for peace was read.

7 pm — Vigil began

– The pope greeted the crowd

– The ancient hymn “Veni Creator” was sung, followed by Marian prayer to Our Lady Queen of Peace

– The Marian icon “Salus Populi Romani” (health of the Roman people) was carried by four Swiss Guards from the obelisk in the center of the square while two girls carried bouquets of flowers.

– The rosary was prayed with readings from the poetry of St. Therese of the Child Jesus.  The Pope has a special devotion to this young, Carmelite Saint beloved around the world.  She is also known as "The Little Flower."  

– Pope Francis gave his reflection

– Adoration of the Blessed Sacrament

– Office of Readings. John 20:19-29  (25 minutes of prayerful silence, music)

– Eucharistic benediction

The event concluded at 11:00 p.m.

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On ZENIT's Web page:

Full text of Pope's homily: www.zenit.org/en/articles/pope-s-homily-at-vigil-of-prayer-for-peace