In war, even the one who wins always has “the defeat of the price paid,” said Pope Francis as he celebrated Mass for All Souls Day on November 2, 2023 at the Rome War Cemetery, which holds the remains of Commonwealth soldiers who died in Italy during the Second World War. Under a gloomy sky, Pope Francis was able to stand up from his wheelchair and celebrate the consecration at the altar, showing some improvement in his knee.
“Today, as we think of the dead, […] we ask the Lord for peace, so that people do not continue killing each other in wars. So many innocent dead, so many soldiers who leave their lives there [on the battlefield],” the Pope said in his brief improvised homily, as a congregation of around 300 people listened, huddled under umbrellas. “Wars are always a defeat, always. There is no total victory, no. Yes, one wins over the other, but behind that there is always the defeat of the price paid.”
The cost of war
“I looked at the ages of these fallen. The majority are between 20 and 30 years old. Lives cut short, lives with no future,” Francis lamented, pointing to the 426 graves of Commonwealth soldiers distributed across the cemetery.
I thought of the parents, the mothers who were receiving that letter: “Madam, I have the honor to tell you that you have a hero son.” “Yes, hero, but he was taken from me!” So many tears in those lives cut short.
Prior to the liturgy, Pope Francis had paid his respects at the memorial by laying a bouquet of white flowers at one of the tombstones. The majority of those buried in the cemetery are from the UK, but there are also soldiers from South Africa, New Zealand, India, Palestine and more.
“I couldn’t not think of the wars of today,” the Pope emphasized. “Even today the same thing is happening: so many young and not-so-young people… In the wars of the world, even in those closest to us, in Europe and beyond: so many deaths! Life is being destroyed without conscience.”
Have hope nonetheless
Pope Francis nevertheless encouraged his listeners to “look forward” as they remember those who have departed this life. “We must ask the Lord for the grace of hope: the hope that never disappoints; the hope, that is the everyday virtue that carries us forward, helps us solve problems and look for ways out of them,” he said.
“That fruitful hope, that theological virtue of every day, of every moment: I will call it the theological virtue ‘of the kitchen,’ because it is at hand and always comes to our aid. The hope that does not disappoint: we live in this tension between memory and hope,” Francis insisted.
The Pontiff also urged his audience to remember “those who have gone before us, who have lived, whose lives have ended […] so many people who have done good.” He also highlighted the need to preserve the “memory of those who were not able to do much good,” expressing his confidence in “the great mercy of the Lord.”
Pope Francis stood during the Mass
During the liturgy, during the consecration of the Eucharist, Pope Francis stood at the altar beside the celebrant. This is likely a sign of some improvement in his physical condition, since for over a year he has stayed seated for this part of the Mass. In an interview broadcast on November 1 on an Italian television channel, the Pontiff said that his knee – for which he underwent treatment in the spring of 2022 – is recovering. “I can walk properly now,” he said.