It’s a story of hope for modern man; a glimmer of light in the midst of the darkness of the 20th century that suggests perhaps we won’t end up destroying ourselves after all.
I’m talking about the famous Christmas Truce of 1914. You (hopefully) know the basic story: in the midst of World War I, German and British soldiers throughout Europe called unofficial cease-fires on Christmas Eve and Christmas Day, ventured into “no-man’s land” between the sides, and enjoyed conversation, caroling, and even games of football.
But did you know about the part the pope played in it?
British and German soldiers during an unofficial truce / Public Domain / Wikimedia Commons
World War I broke out in July of 1914. The pope at the time, Piux X, was sick and dying and unable to adequately respond. He died in August, and by September a new pope was elected, Benedict XV. Right away, Benedict made trying to bring peace to Europe one of the main tasks of his pontificate. He famously called the war “the suicide of civilized Europe.”
In early December, he suggested that all warring parties agree to at least have a cease-fire on Christmas day of that year. In the least the cease-fire would allow soldiers on all sides to keep the holy day. And perhaps the respite would make everyone re-evaluate why the were fighting the war in the first place. But the real hope was that the temporary cease-fire would give the warring parties a chance to put together a permanent truce to end the war for good.
He implored “that the guns may fall silent at least upon the night the angels sang.”
Unfortunately, his proposal was officially rebuffed by leaders on all sides. But then, when Christmas came, truces sprang up unofficially throughout the continent anyway.
What caused the truces? It’s hard to know exactly, particularly since they were apparently uncoordinated and spontaneous. But it’s hard to think the Pope’s courageous pleas for peace didn’t have some effect on what ended up happening. (Remind anyone of something from our own times?)
So may we all remember Christ’s words, “blessed are the peacemakers,” and continue to pray and work for peace in our world today. You never know the effect you may have on the world.