FOR PEACE IN THE MIDST OF WAR
In December 1990 Pope John Paul II described war as “an adventure without a return.”
On January 11, 1991, he sent a telegram to the secretary general of the United Nations pleading for peace.
On January 12, 1991, in his annual address to the diplomatic corps attached to the Vatican, he said that war in the Persian Gulf would represent “a decline for all humanity.”
About war in general, John Paul II stated that the needs of humanity “require that we proceed resolutely toward outlawing war completely and come to cultivate peace as a supreme good.”
Looking to the Middle East, the Pope first observed the unjust treatment of religious minorities.
“The Christian minority there, for example, is in some cases tolerated at most. At times, Christians are prohibited from having their own places of worship and from gathering for public celebrations. Even the symbol of the cross is prohibited. We are referring here to flagrant violation of fundamental human rights and of international law.”
(This situation applies to the majority of the Arab Emirates but, above all, to Saudi Arabia and to Kuwait. The Emirate of Dubai is an exception. It allows three Catholic churches. Iraq also allows Christian churches, including those of the half-million Catholics of the ancient Chaldean rite. Editor)
After calling for an end to “these cases of religious discrimination,” the Pope asked, “What should be said of the presence of weapons and soldiers in truly terrifying proportions?”
He recalled how for so many years peoples have been “plunged into despair and uncertainty as in the Holy Land and Lebanon.” “For decades now, the Palestinian people have been sorely tried and unjustly treated.”
Jerusalem “continues to be the occasion of conflict and discord between believers.” Nearby, “Lebanon has fallen to pieces. For years it lay dying before the eyes of the world without anyone ever helping it to overcome its problems.”
Of the Gulf region itself, he warned that despite Iraq’s “brutal violation of international law, a peace obtained by arms could only prepare new acts of violence.”
“On the one hand we have… the armed invasion of a country and a brutal violation of international law as defined by the United Nations and by moral law. These are unacceptable facts.
“On the other hand, [with] the massive concentration of men and arms… should it end even in limited military action the operations would be particularly costly in human life, to say nothing of the ecological, political, economic and strategic consequences…
“Without entering into the profound causes of violence in this part of the world, a peace obtained by arms could only prepare new acts of violence….”
Finally, reminding the audience of diplomats that “recourse to force for a just war would only be admissible id such recourse were proportionate to the result one wished to obtain,” he warned that “modern military actions [are] made more destructive by modern technology” and that “the capability for war does not legitimize every military and political use of it.”
Outbreak of War
On the eve of war, January 15, the deadline set for Iraq’s withdrawal from Kuwait, John Paul II sent letters to Iraqi leader, Saddam Hussein and to U.S. President George Bush appealing for peace.
On January 19, the Pope, saddened by his failure to halt the war, met with Iraqi Christian leaders, including Catholic Chaldean Patriarch Raphael I Bihawid, (who supports Saddam Hussein in his historic claim on Kuwait), and prayed with them especially about civilian victims of the bombing.
On Sunday, January 27, in his regular noon-time talk to the crowds in St. Peter’s Square, the Pope prayed about various aspects of the conflict as well as for all those belonging to the three religions of the area, Christian, Muslim and Jews. But he did not resign himself to the war nor merely asked for limits to the horror.
On the contrary, he again called upon those responsible for the Gulf was “to abandon as soon as possible, a path not worthy of humanity” and to seek justice through dialogue and negotiation.
Day for Life
On the occasion of Italy’s ‘Day for Life’, Sunday, February 3, Pope John Paul linked war to other acts of violence against human beings: “Life is threatened by abortion, euthanasia, racism and war.” He said.
“How can there be freedom where life, every human life, is not welcomed or loved? How can there be true social progress when people try to justify and legalize attacks and threats against human life?” the Pope asked.
“When there is no respect for life, we are already n the kingdom of death: death of feelings extinguished by an unbridled, alienating hedonism.
“We must proclaim the inviolability of the right to life…against abortion…We must proclaim this right against genetic manipulation…against euthanasia…against racism and homicidal violence of every kind.
We must proclaim such a right against war – against this war which is continuing to be fought in the Persian Gulf region with increasing threat to all humanity….
He concluded: “May Mary, Mother of all people, accept our prayer which echoes the anguished cry of the victims of abortion, hatred, war and attacks on life….”
Two weeks later, on Sunday, February 17, John Paul explained that his remarks should not be seen as “peace at any cost.” “We are not pacifists,” the Pope said. “We don’t want peace at any cost.”
The Pope’s address may, perhaps, best be summarized as “Yes, there could be a just war; no, pray that it will never happen.”
“We are not about to bestow darts or laurels on one or other party in the Gulf,” said The Interim’s February editorial, expressing the same apprehension. While Canada fights Saddam Hussein in the name of righteousness, it has sanctioned the murder of one-and-a-half million preborn babies at home and thinks nothing of it.
What is the situation? Iraq has been bombed back into the nineteenth century and so the innocent are paying the price.
There is little doubt in my mind that their civilian casualties run into the tens of thousands. They no longer have a safe water supply, electricity, gasoline and cooking oil. There are no more bridges, roads, telephones, sewage treatment plants or factories. Some of them are about to face famine and deadly epidemics.
At the time of writing, February 17, one-third of Iraq’s war equipment in Kuwait is reported to have been destroyed. Though it is never mentioned, I am assuming that this means that one third of half a million men have perished as well and many more are about to die.
It is absolutely unthinkable that after this devastation, the community of nations will not sit down and work to settle all major problems in the area, including a halt to Israel’s 40-year-long suppression of the rights of Palestine and Arab systematic violence against Israel.
Also see Judi McLeod column, Page 11.
FOR PEACE IN THE MIDST OF WAR