The 76-year-old pope held up well throughout the four hours — lasting longer than many who by the vigil's 11 p.m. conclusion had already gone home. He thanked those who had stayed to the end for their company, and wished them a good night's sleep.
The peace vigil marked something of a novelty for the Vatican: Nothing of its kind has ever taken place in St. Peter's Square, though popes past have participated in daylong peace prayers in places like Assisi, known for its peace-loving native son and the pope's namesake, St. Francis.
That's not to say popes haven't taken vigorous anti-war positions in the past: Pope Paul VI famously uttered the words "War never again, never again war" at the United Nations in 1965 as the Vietnam War raged, a refrain that has been repeated by every pope since. Pope John Paul II sent an envoy to President George W. Bush on the eve of the 2003 U.S.-led invasion of Iraq urging him to stand down — to no avail.
Francis has condemned the use of chemical weapons in Syria, but has been careful not to lay blame on any one side, exhorting world leaders instead to focus on the plight of Syrian civilians and the need in general to end the violence.
Other church officials, both at the Vatican and in dioceses, have been more pointed in their criticism of any internationalization of the conflict, saying U.S.-French military strikes will only exacerbate the situation for civilians, particularly Christian minorities.
Albert Aji contributed from Damascus, Syria. Follow Nicole Winfield at www.twitter.com/nwinfield
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