During a conversation I had with Pope John Paul II in July of 1993 at his summer residence at Castel Gandolfo, he said something to me that I keep thinking as I watch in horror on TV, day after day, the heavy pounding of Israeli missiles landing in southern Lebanon towns.

The Holy Father said to me, “The future of Lebanon is very troubling; much pain and much suffering. People should be able to live in peace and practice their own religious beliefs in the Middle East. Tragically, they are not able to. I’m troubled that many innocent people will continue to be victims of intolerance and injustice. The crisis in the Middle East can only be settled with prayer and good will, not by bombs, hatred or terrorists.”

The Holy Father said two other things to me that I believe are important today as we look for solutions to the senseless killing in the Middle East.

His first point surprised me when he said, “In any conflict, it is always the powerful that must give way to the weak if justice is to be achieved.” His second point was something I’ve heard him say before: “The voice of Catholics must be raised in the civic arena once again. The moral strength of any democracy will depend on its ability to protect freedom while at the same time providing it with the necessary ethical foundations. Concern for the common good has the driving force behind the notable involvement of America’s Catholics in the life of their nation.”

Unfortunately, a lot has changed with Catholics in America since the Pope said these words to me in 1993. His call for faithful citizenship and political responsibility has all but fallen on deaf ears.

Catholic elected officials consistently vote and speak against traditional Catholic teachings and values, but get rewarded by Catholic voters re-electing them to public office. Even though Catholics are taught growing up that participation in the political process is a moral obligation, too many Catholics are uninformed about how their elected officials vote.

Forty percent of Catholics don’t even vote. Even if they do vote, they often vote for party, not principle. They unwittingly support politicians who are more concerned about what’s popular and politically correct, not what’s morally correct and important to the values of our country and society.

Deeply troubled with the lack of moral and political leadership in our nation, I recently wrote a letter to Pope Benedict XVI, which I would like to share with you. In the letter I wrote “that the Middle East is in crisis. Thousands of innocent Lebanese, Palestinians and Israelis are being killed and nobody has been able to do anything about it. We are experiencing a complete breakdown of moral order and international law.

“No political leader, party or institution speaks for, represents or has the moral courage necessary to bring peace and justice to the Middle East.”

I went on to respectfully urge Benedict XVI “to reach out and appeal to faithful Catholics worldwide to become active and vocal in this moral crisis. Catholics’ moral voices are not being heard in the political arena. You must provide the moral leadership to restore peace and stability in the Middle East. The world community of faithful Catholics anxiously awaits and needs your message. Only when the people of the region treat each other with dignity and respect will peace come to the Holy Land.

“There are over 64 million Catholics in the United States and 1.2 billion worldwide. You must lead us with one voice for peace and justice in the Middle East. Your message will be listened to by all three great religious faiths in the Middle East, Muslims, Jews and Christians.”

Catholics in the United States must also commit themselves to a new form of political participation focused on moral principles, not on the demands of powerful special interests.

The U.S. government must not allow foreign policy to be determined by political extremists or powerful special interest groups. Benedict XVI should invite world religious leaders to Assisi, as Pope John Paul II so effectively did (I was there) when he appealed for peace in Bosnia in the 1990s.

The Israeli military must stop its brutal bombings and killing of innocent women, children and elderly in Lebanon. The Catholic Church’s moral voice, rooted in its principles and values of the dignity and respect for all God’s children, must be heard. Special interest politics is driving American foreign policy. This is morally reprehensible and damaging our reputation as an objective and fair participant on the world stage.

The Pope must speak out, and Catholics everywhere, especially in the United States must support him. It is time for Catholics to accept the challenge of faithful citizenship.

Muslims, Jews and Christians must be able to live side by side in Lebanon and the Middle East. This must be the cornerstone of America’s foreign policy. The U.S. government hunts this objective by consistently taking sides in the conflict.

Catholics must demand that our political voice be no longer ignored. Catholics must begin to realize that the moral and political voice of our faith and Church has been severely diminished. Catholic political leadership has been weak, timid and ineffective. The voice of Catholic values is ignored and non-existent in the media today.

Yes, there are plenty of Catholics who are journalists and commentators in the American media, but their profession requires them to be politically correct and poplar with those who dominate and control both politics and the media today.

Catholics may be more than 64 million in number in the U.S., but our influence and political voice is growing weaker and weaker. Pope Benedict XVI maybe the only hope for peace and justice in the world. Catholics everywhere must unite behind him.

Author and commentator

Raymond L. Flynn is the former

 U.S. ambassador to the Vatican,

and former mayor of Boston.