Remembrance Day service recalls war fallen in a prayer for peace
ROME -- Diplomats, officials, military personnel, veterans, local associations and members of the public gathered last Friday at the Rome Commonwealth War Cemetery in the historic Testaccio quarter of the city. They stood side by side in the cemetery surrounded by the Aurelian wall constructed between 270 and 275 AD and whose center point is the Cross of Sacrifice for a Remembrance Service marking the cessation of hostilities to World War I with the signing of the armistice on Nov. 11, 1918.
World War I was supposed to be “the war to end all wars”, but its ending arguably laid the groundwork for World War II to begin, and the service connected these two histories. The war memorial contains the burial remains of 426 fallen Commonwealth military members during World War II. A now elderly woman, the child of a fallen WWII soldier, was present for the service wearing the ribbons and medals of a father she never knew.
Instituted in 1947, the cemetery is an oasis of calm that belies the tragic circumstances surrounding the deaths of those buried here. The ordered rows of vertical gravestones are the final resting place of military from the garrison stationed in Rome, the surrounding region and soldiers and aviators who died in captivity from 1939 to 1945. Inscribed on the tombs surrounded by meticulously cared for plants and flowers are the dates and places of birth and death of each of the fallen, and the military branch to which they belonged. They record the short lives of many. Particularly moving are those gravestones with inscriptions. “Memories of a smiling face”. “In our hearts your memory is kept”. “Gone from us, but not forgotten”.
Remembering such an ultimate sacrifice was central to the ecumenical service composed of hymns, readings and prayers of “God grant us peace”. Rev. Robert Warren, chaplain of Rome's All Saints'Anglican Church, presided over the service, which was also officiated by Fr. Konrad Grech, a German Jesuit Priest at the Venerable English College, a seminary that prepares Catholic priests in Rome to serve in English-speaking missions, and Rev. Sarah Mae Gabuyo, minister at the Ponte Sant'Angelo Methodist Church in Rome.
Intercessions were also made for all those suffering conflicts today, especially civilian victims of war. Ambassadors from around the world, representatives and associations laid wreathes. A member of the Italian Carabinieri sounded the trumpet.
Pope Francis also visited the Cemetry on Nov. 2 when he presided over a Mass on the day of commemoration for the departed faithful. He similarly reflected on the tragedy of war in his homily, especially for the young whose lives are cut short. "Wars are always a defeat, always," the Roman pontiff said.
The Friday Remembrance Service seemed especially poignant at a time when war again dominates the headlines amid the possibility of larger regional and global conflicts. “It is very important to have a service like this in honor of all those who are buried here,” Rev. Warren told The Insider. “This is a day of remembrance, but the world today still needs sacrifices for peace, not necessarily military sacrifice, but other kinds of sacrifices. There are those who suffer greatly because they stand up for marginalized peoples or against tyranny in their own country at great cost, and these sacrifices are also needed to stand up for the cause of peace.”
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