2016 Christmas Message

POPE BENEDICT XV succeeded Pope Pius X on September 3, 1914 after the death of the latter on August 20, 1914. He was a pontiff until his death on January 22, 1922. His reign as pope was very difficult as it was during his time that most of the First World War happened. WWI begun on July 28, 1914 and ended on November 11, 1918. Fighting was very fierce as they had to fight in very close quarters as their trenches were only about 100 feet apart. Casualty was very high on both sides.

Probably sensing that the war would be prolonged and fighting would be without let-up, Pope Benedict XV shortly after taking his office called for a Christmas truce to at least stop the war for a day or two if not a week. This was officially rejected both by the Allied forces and the Germans.

What followed could not be explained nor how the idea of the truce was brought to the frontline. On what is called as the Western Front, some sort of a truce happened on the eve of Christmas and Christmas Day of 1914. There were different accounts on what really happened and nobody could be certain about the facts neither how it nor who really started the said truce.

One of the more detailed accounts was that of Graham Williams of the Fifth London Rifle Brigade; “First the Germans would sing one of their carols and then we would sing one of ours, until when we started up ‘O Come, All Ye Faithful’ the Germans immediately joined in singing the same hymn to the Latin words Adeste Fideles. And I thought, well, this is really a most extraordinary thing – two nations both singing the same carol in the middle of a war.”

On Christmas Day, there were even accounts of Germans yelling Merry Christmas in English which the allied forces reciprocated. In some parts of the trenches, the Germans got out of their trenches with placards stating, “You no shoot, we no shoot”. In those part of the trenches where these sorts of pleasantries were exchanged resulted in a day long truce. Both sides got out of their trenches, exchange cigarettes, food, buttons, hats and the likes. There were, of course a lot of singing. It also gave both sides the chance to bury their dead.

The difficulty of their life in cold and wet trenches was probably enough motivation for troops on both sides to initiate the truce on their own.

The truce lasted only a day in some parts and in some it lasted until after New Year’s Day. There were also areas in the said Western Front that the truce did not happen. Although there were accounts that several soldiers on both sides attempted to initiate the truce only to end up being shot by the opposing forces.

What really happened defies explanation. Murdoch M. Wood, a British soldier speaking in 1930, said: “I then came to the conclusion that I have held very firmly ever since, that if we had been left to ourselves there would never have been another shot fired.” This statement of Wood clearly indicated that the said truce did happen and could have ended the war if not only for the stubbornness of the generals on both sides to keep on issuing orders to fight.

Did the truce happen because of the call of Pope Benedict XV or did our Lord Jesus Christ work His way through the hearts of those soldiers on both sides? Our Lord Jesus Christ is always in our hearts working His way to change us into becoming a better person and away from sin. Let us heed His call and let us not harden our hearts as He tries to reach us through the least of His brethren. May your Christmas be Merry and may you be the cause of a Merry Christmas of somebody in need.

ARSENIO ISIDRO G. YAPARSENIO ISIDRO G. YAP

Father of Knights of Columbus in the Philippines

 

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