There were too many stories of instability and slaughter in the news this summer and George noticed. He asked me a few weeks ago: Theo, when is the news going to stop talking about Gaza and return to Syria? George is nearly 12 but he still sees the world in black and white and in terms of what is clearly right and wrong.
It won’t be long before he knows too much of life and the news becomes inexplicably grey and no longer makes sense again. Clarity has a short life cycle.
I thought a visit to the altar of peace would be a good way to close this summer of inescapable headlines from across the globe and restless days trying to stay cool in Rome.
The Museo dell’Ara Pacis sits along a turn on the Tiber River and features an exquisite memorial to peace commissioned by Octavian Augustus over 2000 years ago. The contemporary building is an unusual sight in this city of ancient monuments:
Augustus commissioned the altar to honor the Goddess Pax when he returned to Rome victorious after years of consolidating his vast empire. Peace is a pleasure of the victors and Augustus knew well to offer tribute to his luck and to the Goddess who assured it.
Pax was a minor player on the shelf of Roman deities, dusted-off by Augustus and elevated to celebrity in the Fields of Mars near the northern gate of Rome. Her beautifully carved marble monument didn’t stand alone. A few hundred feet to the east Augustus erected an obelisk he had looted from Egypt. He named the stone pillar after himself and crowned it with a gilded ball to enhance its shadow. Every year on his birthday the maximum length of the obelisk’s shadow reached the Ara Pacis, uniting man and goddess in a powerful coupling of monuments.
And so began the cult of Augustus and the height of the Roman Empire.
The Pax Romana.
The Pope took an opportunity to promote peace with a star-studded soccer match this week. He organized The Interfaith Match for Peace to model cooperation and tolerance. The teams had Christian, Muslim, Hindu, Jewish and Buddhist players and at least two adored soccer legends: Diego Maradona and Roberto Baggio.
The message? Sportsmanship should extend beyond the field.
We took the boys in hopes of seeing Messi but he didn’t play because of an injury. The Pope was a no-show as well though he met the players earlier in the day. He also sent a televised greeting to the stadium.
The event was all too contrived for me. There are plenty of quiet examples of tolerance and respect beyond corporate sponsored sporting events. I think of India and its extraordinary diversity and of villages where Hindu and Muslim communities live and work together. It’s an imperfect example because this diversity doesn’t always “bear witness to feelings of fraternity and friendship” as the Pope and the rest of us would like. But hundreds-of-millions of Indians practice a daily scrimmage in their own interfaith match for a lasting and very real peace. In these games, everyone wins.