View of interior of the Pantheon, a former Roman temple, which is now a church in Rome.

One day in the spring of 1977, shortly after my departure from the former Soviet Union as a political refugee to the West, I was strolling the streets of Rome, in the vicinity of the Pantheon (a former Roman temple and, since AD 609, a Catholic church).

Suddenly, during my random walk, I found myself facing a large wooden medieval door of a small and noticeably aged Gothic-style church. With some effort, I opened the thick door and slowly walked into the church. There was no one in the sanctuary; it was dark, a slight scent of burnt candles was present in the air. I did not realize I was about to experience something that would inspire me the rest of my days.

Just a short moment after I entered the church, the large door slowly opened behind me and a petite young woman in a light gray sweat-shirt hoodie and pants of the same color walked in. The hoodie covered her head, and I could only glimpse the tip of her nose. She passed by me gracefully, like a ballerina, not turning her head in my direction. She then dropped to one knee on the floor, crossed herself, lowered her head and silently prayed – holding her hands tightly to her chest. It was an inspiring scene.

…between 1945 and 1990, the earth enjoyed a grand total of only three weeks that were truly war-free.”

As she prayed, a gentle light shone through the Gothic-style rose windows of the church. I felt lightness, peace and tranquility in every cell of my being. “She is an angel, a paragon of virtue,” I thought to myself. She silently prayed for a few minutes, then stood and walked out as gracefully as she had entered. The light in the church slowly vanished; I was in darkness once again – alone in an empty place of worship.

Throughout the 47 years after this mystifying event, I have wanted to believe that the appearance of this woman in a small church in Rome was perhaps an angel of peace – descended to Earth for me as a messenger of God. In that house of worship, she was silently conveying to me, “You are at the beginning of an uncertain and difficult journey in search of freedom, liberty and happiness; you will be fine, you will persevere in the face of difficulties – believe in yourself.” And I did.

In their book “War and Anti-War” (1993), authors Alvin and Heidi Toffler observed:

“… between 1945 and 1990, the earth enjoyed a grand total of only three weeks that were truly war-free.” From 1990 to the present day, revenge, anger, hatred and endless wars have continued to plague the world. To stop the progression, humanity must believe and strive toward goodness, peace, tranquility, compassion and a sense of purpose. Our leaders must unite to stop the turmoil and tumultuous events occurring throughout the world. Doing otherwise results only in a future of continued hatred, war, devastation and death.

Indeed, living in a new compassionate way with each other is difficult and challenging. But dwelling in the past of hatred toward each other is even more difficult and destructive for human existence.

The views expressed here are those of the author.

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OPINION: A messenger of peace in a world at war

Alexander Dolitsky
The writer was raised in the former Soviet Union before settling in the U.S. in 1978. He moved to Juneau in 1986 where he has taught Russian studies at the University of Alaska, Southeast. He is now director of the Alaska-Siberia Research Center and has published extensively in the fields of anthropology, history, archaeology, and ethnography.