Pope Francis rose up in all his moral grandeur on Sunday to make a global appeal for peace in Syria–calling Sept. 7 as a global day of prayer and fasting for peace in Syria and the Middle East. (You can send a note to Congress urging nonviolent action in Syria.)
The Catholic Church has very strong teachings against war. The U.S. bishops have not yet called on Catholic soldiers not to fight – but only because they are afraid of the chaos it would cause, not because it’s inconsistent with Catholic teaching. Catholics are not permitted to participate in pre-emptive war or any war that does not meet just war principles (which attacks on Syria do not).
As Americans, the question we face is not whether we condone chemical weapons use — of course we do not. The question is how should the international community responds when someone commits a war crime (ie uses chemical weapons).
The pope invites all people of good will to set aside a day for prayer, meditation, and fasting — or any discipline that leads one deeper into an experience of personal peace and peace for the world. Below is Pope Francis’ appeal:
“Today, dear brothers and sisters, I wish to make add my voice to the cry which rises up with increasing anguish from every part of the world, from every people, from the heart of each person, from the one great family which is humanity: it is the cry for peace! It is a cry which declares with force: we want a peaceful world, we want to be men and women of peace, and we want in our society, torn apart by divisions and conflict, that peace break out! War never again! Never again war! Peace is a precious gift, which must be promoted and protected.
“There are so many conflicts in this world which cause me great suffering and worry, but in these days my heart is deeply wounded in particular by what is happening in Syria and anguished by the dramatic developments which are looming.
“I appeal strongly for peace, an appeal which arises from the deep within me. How much suffering, how much devastation, how much pain has the use of arms carried in its wake in that martyred country, especially among civilians and the unarmed! I think of many children who will not see the light of the future! With utmost firmness I condemn the use of chemical weapons: I tell you that those terrible images from recent days are burned into my mind and heart. There is a judgement of God and of history upon our actions which is inescapable! Never has the use of violence brought peace in its wake. War begets war, violence begets violence.
Marie Dennis, co-president of Pax Christi International, traveled in May to Shatila refugee camp in Beirut, Lebanon, to deliver messages of hope and support to Syrian refugees from people around the world who had participated in a solidarity fast for Syria.
Here’s an excerpt from Marie’s report:
“…According to the OCHA chief Valerie Amos, humanitarian convoys are regularly attacked or shot at, and staff are intimidated or kidnapped. For example, in late March a convoy carrying medical assistance for 80,000 people was hijacked by an armed group on its way from Tartous to Aleppo, and all of the supplies were stolen. And yet, in spite of the threats, humanitarian workers continue their critical work. “I want to pay particular tribute to the work of the Syrian Arab Red Crescent (SARC) volunteers,” she said at an April briefing. “They have shown incredible dedication, impartiality and courage since the beginning of the conflict. Many of them do not hesitate to risk their lives every day to bring assistance to people in need, whether they live in government or opposition-controlled areas…. Given its network across the country and its capacity to negotiate access to almost all areas affected, SARC is an invaluable partner for the UN and other humanitarian organizations in Syria.”
“This is a man who gave us the warrantless wiretapping scheme as a kind of atrocity warm-up on the way to deceitfully engineering a conflict that has killed over 4,400 and maimed nearly 32,000 Americans, as well as leaving over 100,000 Iraqis dead. Being called a traitor by Dick Cheney is the highest honor you can give an American.”–NSA whistleblower Edward Snowden after former vice president Cheney called Snowden a “traitor”
I was impressed by the strength of Pope Francis’ message against the madness of war as he addressed military families, particularly those who have members in Afghanistan, on Italy’s “Memorial Day.” Would that more Christians would speak with such love and clarity. While the U.S. bishops spoke strongly against the Iraq war, I would bet that none of them preached as sermon like the Pope’s on Memorial Day. In his homily, the Pope commented on the gospel story of the centurion who asks Jesus to heal his slave.
“Our God is personal. He listens to everyone with his heart and He loves ‘wholeheartedly’. Today we have come to pray for our dead, for our wounded, for the victims of the madness that is war! It is the suicide of humanity because it kills the heart. It kills precisely that which is the Lord’s message: it kills love! War grows out of hatred, envy, and the desire for power, as well as—how very many times we see it—from the hunger for more power.”
“So many times we’ve seen the great ones of the earth wanting to solve local problems, economic problems, and economic crises with war. Why?” the Holy Father continued. “Because, for them, money is more important than people! And war is just that: it is an act of faith in money, in idols, in the idols of hatred, in that idol that leads to killing one’s brother, that leads to killing love. It reminds me of God our Father’s words to Cain, who, out of envy, had killed his brother: ‘Cain, where is your brother?’ Today we can hear this voice: it is God our Father who weeps, weeps for this madness of ours, who asks all of us: ‘Where is your brother?’ Who says to the powerful of the earth: ‘Where is your brother? What have you done!’”
“[Pray that the Lord might] take all evil far away from us, … even with tears, with the tears of the heart [pray]: “’Turn to us, O Lord, and have mercy on us, because we are sad, we are in anguish. See our misery and our pain and forgive our sins’; because behind war there are always sins: the sin of idolatry, the sin of exploiting persons on the altar of power, of sacrificing them. ‘Turn to us, O Lord, and have mercy, because we are sad and in anguish.’ … We are confident that the Lord will hear us and will do everything to give us the spirit of consolation. So be it.”–Pope Francis
Read the whole article.
Last week, former president Jimmy Carter gave an important speech at a little liberal arts college in Pennsylvania. He urged America to become a “champion for peace.”
“I think that’s one of the characteristics of a superpower,” said Carter. (Read more in William Landaur’s article Ex-President Carter at Lafayette College: U.S. failing to promote peace)
(The 7-minute video above is a segment of a much longer video of the speech and the question and answer period that followed, which included a candid discussion about North Korea.)
Carter, the 39th President of the United States, delivered Lafayette College’s inaugural Robert and Margaret Pastor Lecture in International Affairs on April 22 in Easton, PA. (Bob Pastor was national security advisor on Latin America and the Caribbean under Carter.)
President Carter clearly identified that the U.S. has been in a constant state of war since the end of World War II. He named off the dozens of countries the U.S. has been formally at war with and the many that the U.S. has waged illegitimate war on.
He recalled the U.N.’s Universal Declaration of Human Rights that the U.S. helped create in 1948 (thanks to Eleanor Roosevelt) and that the U.S. is currently in violation of 10 of the 30 principles — specifically noting illegal detentions at Guantanamo Bay prison and using drones to commit targeted assassinations.
He also addressed climate change and the international environmental treaties that have fallen into disrepair, since President Bush Senior.
War is a depredation of the human spirit that is sold as the loftiest of livelihoods. To hide the rape and pillage, the degradation and disaster, the training of human beings to become animals in ways we would allow no animals to be, we have concocted a language of mystification.
We could casualties now in terms of “collateral damage,” the number of millions of civilians we are prepared to lose in nuclear war and still call ourselves winners. We call the deadliest weapons in the history of humankind, the most benign of names: Little Boy, Bambi, Peacemakers. The nuclear submarine used to launch Cruise missiles that can target and destroy 250 first-class cities at one time, for instance, we name “Corpus Christi,” Body of Christ, a blasphemy used to describe the weapon that will break the Body of Christ beyond repair.
We take smooth-faced young men out of their mother’s kitchens to teach them how to march blindly into death, how to destroy what they do not know, how to hate what they have not seen. We make victims of the victors themselves. We call the psychological maiming, the physical squandering, the spiritual distortion of the nation’s most vulnerable defenders “defense.” We turn their parents and sweethearts and children into the aged, the widowed, and the orphaned before their time. “We make a wasteland and call it peace,” the Roman poet Seneca wrote with miserable insight.–Joan Chittister, OSB
Excerpted from There is a Season
Some of you young folks been saying to me, “Hey Pops, what you mean ‘What a wonderful world’? How about all them wars all over the place? You call them wonderful? And how about hunger and pollution? That aint so wonderful either.”
Well how about listening to old Pops for a minute. Seems to me, it aint the world that’s so bad but what we’re doin’ to it. And all I’m saying is, see, what a wonderful world it would be if only we’d give it a chance.
Love baby, love. That’s the secret, yeah. If lots more of us loved each other, we’d solve lots more problems. And then this world would be better. That’s wha’ ol’ Pops keeps saying.–Louis “Satchmo” Armstrong
This quote is from the founding father of American Jazz Louis “Satchmo” Armstrong from the spoken word introduction to the 1970 recording of “What A Wonderful World.”
I’ve had some lovely email exchanges with Portland magazine editor Brian Doyle. He’s a thoughtful, thoroughly human writer (see his newest collection Grace Notes). Portland magazine is the wildly popular “alumni magazine” from the Catholic University of Portland (Oregon).
Last week I received a copy of Portland‘s Summer 2011 issue in the mail. Brian’s opening essay speaks volumes about thousands of war survivors in our country and in the countries of our “enemies.”
He writes, “Recently I met a quiet woman who didn’t say much but what she said was wry and pithy and direct, and after a while I asked if I could take notes as she talked, and she said okay, and this is most of what she said.”
My name is Jacqueline. You can call me Jackie. Until recently you could call me Sergeant. I am now retired from the service. I will be twenty-seven years old on Sunday, at fourteen hundred hours. I was a hematology nurse, I am in good health, considering. I have a dog named Gus. I live near the beach. I drink tea. I learned to love tea in Kirkuk. Some days we had tea ten times a day. We found a samovar and learned how to use it. There was a man among us who could play that thing like a guitar. It got so we couldn’t drink anything other than the tea he summoned from that samovar. He vanished one day when his truck was hit by the bandits. Another man took his place. He vanished too. I took his place. After a while I forgot everyone’s names. For a while I called people by their numbers but after a while I didn’t call them anything. That’s when I knew I had war sickness, big time. I never got hit by fire but pretty much everyone I knew did. For a while there I thought it was me, that as soon as I said hello to someone or shook hands or learned their names they were doomed, so I stopped touching people and learning names. You would think wigging out in the middle of a war would be bad but it’s just normal, No one talks about what happens to the people nothing happens to, but something happens to them, and no one talks about it. Probably because we don’t have any words for what happens. Wars kill words, but no one talks about that. …
Read Brian’s whole essay here.
Zainab Salbi is the founder of Women for Women International. In the mid-1990s, I worked with her advocating for Bosnian women in the middle of the Bosnian genocide. At the time, she and I were one of the few women in the DC-area who were organizing for peace in Bosnia. Zainab’s an Iraqi refugee and we bonded over Christian and Muslim women coming together for Christian and Muslim women in the former Yugoslavia. Zainab’s team at W4WI lifts up the stories of women in war zones around the world.
As the U.S. and others once again go to war in Libya – under the guise of “redemptive violence” – I’m prompted by Zainab to call to mind the women and children in Libya, the doctors, the pacifists, and all those who refuse to fight for any side. Pray for them. Look for their stories.
Below is a TED talk by Zainab from Oxford last summer.
I grew up with the colors of war — the red colors of fire and blood, the brown tones of earth as it explodes in our faces and the piercing silver of an exploded missile, so bright that nothing can protect your eyes from it. I grew up with the sounds of war — the staccato sounds of gunfire, the wrenching booms of explosions, ominous drones of jets flying overhead and the wailing warning sounds of sirens. These are the sounds you would expect, but they are also the sounds of dissonant concerts of a flock of birds screeching in the night, the high-pitched honest cries of children and the thunderous, unbearable, silence. “War,” a friend of mine said, “is not about sound at all. It is actually about silence, the silence of humanity.”–Zainab Salbi
“There are women who are standing on their feet in spite of their circumstances, not because of it. Think of how the world can be a much better place if, for a change, we have a better equality, we have equality, we have a representation and we understand war, both from the front-line and the back-line discussion.
Rumi, a 13th century Sufi poet, says, “Out beyond the worlds of right doings and wrong doings, there is a field. I will meet you there. When the soul lies down in that grass, the world is too full to talk about. Ideas, language, even the phrase “each other” no longer makes any sense.” I humbly add — humbly add — that out beyond the worlds of war and peace, there is a field, and there are many women and men [who] are meeting there. Let us make this field a much bigger place. Let us all meet in that field.”–Zainab Salbi