Pope Francis visited a military cemetery in Rome to pray on All Souls’ Day and offered Mass for the faithful departed.
During his live-streamed visit to the French Military Cemetery on Nov. 2, the pope walked past rows of graves, stopping every so often to pray and to give his blessing.
Pope Francis placed white flowers on some of the graves and paused at tombs to pray in silence before he offered Mass on the cemetery grounds.
In his homily, the pope said that as he walked past the tombs, he noticed one without a name. It said: “Unknown. Died for France, 1944.”
“In the heart of God is the name of all of us, but this is the tragedy of the war,” Pope Francis commented.
The pope said that the tombs should be a “message of peace,” which urge people to stop manufacturing the weapons of war.
“These tombs which speak, cry out … They cry out from within. They cry out: ‘Peace,’” he said.
The cemetery was created at the end of the Second World War for soldiers who fought for France in Italy, particularly members of the French Expeditionary Force to Italy, which took part in the Battle of Monte Cassino in May 1944.
Many of the soldiers buried in the cemetery were from Morocco and Tunisia, according to Vatican News, which reported that of the 1,888 soldiers buried in the cemetery in Rome, 1,142 were Muslim. These graves are marked with a crescent moon on each tombstone.
“I am sure that all these who have gone in goodwill, called by their homeland to defend it, are with the Lord. But do we, who are on the way, do we fight sufficiently so that there are no wars?” the pope asked.
“Why are the economies of countries fortified by the arms industry?”
There were just over 100 people present at the papal Mass in the military cemetery located some two miles north of the Vatican.
The pope recalled those who died on the shores of Normandy and at the Battle of Anzio near Rome in World War II, as well as at the Piave River in Italy in World War I.
“These people — good people — died in war, they died because they were called to defend their homeland, to defend values, to defend ideals and, many other times, to defend sad and lamentable political situations,” Pope Francis said.
“And they are the victims, the victims of war, which eats the children of the fatherland,” he said.
On All Souls’ Day and throughout the month of November, the Church makes a special effort to remember, honor, and pray for the dead.
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There are many different cultural traditions around the feast, but one of the most consistently honored is the practice of visiting cemeteries. This year, the Vatican is granting a plenary indulgence to Catholics who visit a cemetery to pray for the dead on any day in the month of November.
Last year, the pope visited the Teutonic Cemetery in Vatican City, and in 2019 he offered All Souls’ Day Mass in the Catacombs of Priscilla, one of the prominent catacombs of the early Church in Rome.
In 2018, Pope Francis offered Mass in a cemetery for deceased children and unborn babies called the “Garden of Angels,” located in the Laurentino Cemetery on the outskirts of Rome.
In his homily at the French military cemetery, the pope recalled a sign he had read at the gate of another cemetery that said: “You who pass, think of your steps, and of your steps think of the last step.”
Courtney Mares is a Rome Correspondent for Catholic News Agency. A graduate of Harvard University, she has reported from news bureaus on three continents and was awarded the Gardner Fellowship for her work with North Korean refugees.
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Pope Francis celebrated Mass Saturday for the souls of the dead in Rome’s Catacombs of Priscilla, saying the place of a Christian is in the safety of the hands of God, whatever the outside circumstances might be.