Catholics and Iraq

Thank you for your reasoned front-page report “Debating Iraq” (Feb. 4). The most urgent issue in Iraq now is what can be done to prevent unrestrained civil war. A January Brookings Institution paper foresees unrestrained civil war in Iraq leading to a “humanitarian nightmare” with “hundreds of thousands (or more) of Iraqis killed along with several times that number maimed and millions of refugees” and also warns of the strong possibility of “spillover” resulting in a “regional war.”

The authors also find that, because of strategic interests in the Middle East, “the United States probably will not be able to just walk away from the chaos” — meaning that a future U.S. president will be under heavy pressure to send soldiers back in to Iraq.

A Feb. 17 Washington Post editorial cites a consensus of U.S. intelligence agencies that early withdrawal would result in “massive civilian casualties.” Note that these assessments are not from President Bush’s political allies.While there is debate about the number of civilians killed and wounded in Iraq to date, there is little doubt that unrestrained civil war would make matters much worse.

Assigning blame is not going to solve this problem. This is not just a political issue; it is a pro-life issue. We own the conflict in Iraq whether we like it or not — and we owe it to the people of Iraq to do everything we can to prevent unrestrained civil war.

Patrick J. Grant

Lanham, Maryland

Ireland Alone

Your statement that Portugal is no longer “the only nation in Europe that protects unborn life” is misleading (In Brief, Feb. 18). Ireland has never approved any abortion, and still does not.

Article 40.3.3 of the Irish Constitution reads: “The State acknowledges the right to life of the unborn … and guarantees its laws to respect and, as far as practicable, by the laws to defend and vindicate that right.” Since its Constitution was written 87 years ago, there has never been an abortion in Ireland.

Even Portugal still bans all abortions after the first 10 weeks of pregnancy, which is far stricter than in the United States.

Dan Lyons

Bloomsbury, New Jersey

Crash Course

I can confidently say that there is one, and only one, remedy to the decline in Catholic-school enrollment: catechesis (“Schools Struggling,” Feb. 18).

I graduated from a Jesuit high school with a dismal knowledge of my faith. It took a prison sentence, where I immersed myself in the books I should have been taught in school, to teach me not only what the Church teaches, but why. If Catholic schools begin fostering in their students a knowledge and love of the true faith — not watered down, but proclaimed boldly — the vocations crisis will reverse into a boom. The vocations boom will provide more teaching sisters and priests, thus lowering the cost of Catholic education. This, in turn, will allow parents the option of sending their children to Catholic schools.

Parents of Catholic-school students have a responsibility to demand that their children be taught their faith. Alumni should withhold funds from their alma maters until the schools commit to proper theological education. It is the only way on earth to revive the Catholic school system.

James Jenneman

Colorado City, Texas

St. Michael in Song

Regarding the article on the Prayer of St. Michael and a hymn setting for this text (“‘Defend Us’ — in Song,” Feb. 11):

Most Church musicians, like me, understand a hymn text to have a recurring meter (e.g., common meter) and some sort of rhyme. In other words, it’s a poem set to music. Now the St. Michael prayer is not poetry but prose, much like the “Glory to God” in the Mass. Thus, in my estimation, composing a simple, sing-able hymn is not feasible.

My suggestion would be to find a poet who could rephrase the prayer into a metric poem, much in the manner many famous poets would rephrase the Psalms (as with Psalm 100 — “Old Hundredth”). I believe musicians would have little trouble setting a beautiful poem containing all the sentiments of the St. Michael Prayer to music.

J. Gerald Phillips

Fitchburg, Massachusetts

Armed With Ignorance

I was very happy to read “Smear Campaign: Former KGB General Says Pius XII Was Targeted” (Feb. 18). Alexander Pope, the 18th-century British poet, wrote that “a little knowledge is a dangerous thing.” To those who have tried to falsify Pius XII’s stand against Nazism, a little knowledge of his writings and words is indeed dangerous.

We can all agree that Nazi philosophy centered on the belief that some people are better than others, that might makes right and that a person has value only in his usefulness to the state. In his encyclical Summi Pontificatus, written in October 1939, Pius XII explicitly rejected each of these ideas. The encyclical forcibly rejected the notion of the absolute state, defended individual rights and described as idolatrous the worship of the race of people. The encyclical was a haymaker against everything the Nazis preached.

Pius XII also denounced euthanasia and utilitarianism, “the killing of life unworthy of life.” In 1940, he publicly stated that the Vatican was a haven for all victims of war, “including non-Aryans,” which is how the Nazis referred to Jewish people.

Anyone who reads Pius XII’s actual words from 1939 to 1945 can see that his detractors rely on people not knowing the actual historical record.

Matthew Terranova

Hackensack, New Jersey

A Sign in Nagasaki

Regarding “Martyrs Dropped an Everlasting Love Bomb” (Travel, Feb. 4):

Your article on the Shrine-Church and Museum of the Japanese Martyrs in Nagasaki, Japan, brought back memories of when I was in the Navy. The destroyer I was on made a visit to Nagasaki in 1946, a year after the city was destroyed by the atomic bomb — except for one stone building. I asked our guide what it was and he replied: a Catholic Church.

That really renewed my faith.

Raymond Anaya

Roswell, New Mexico

Exemplary Acts of Honor

While in Washington, D.C., for the March for Life, we visited Arlington National Cemetery and witnessed the changing of the guard. During the ceremony, the honor guard stood at attention and saluted the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier, where three servicemen “Known But to God” are buried. The guards did this every time they passed the tomb.

Such reverence and respect paid to those who died to protect our freedom is quite commendable.

In our Catholic churches, we have the holy Eucharist — Jesus Christ, body and blood, soul and divinity — who died to save us from our sins. What kind of reverence and respect do we give him?

Mrs. William Molnar

Louisville, Kentucky

Atheists Believe

Columnist Carl E. Olson raises an interesting insight in “If God Does Not Exist, Why Do Atheists Fight Him?” (Spirit & Life, Feb. 11). Close examination reveals that evangelical atheism serves as a façade for esoteric cultists who believe in God, but oppose him.

Since we are created in the image and likeness of God, the connection between “atheists,” cultists and aggressive abortion activists becomes clearer.

Those who hate God basically hate humanity. Against these legions promoting a culture of death stands St. Michael the Archangel to defend us.

Thank you, Register, for promoting his prayer after every Mass.

Robert J. Bonsignore

Brooklyn, New York

Addendum: Silence

In the wake of Steven Greydanus’ beaming review of Into Great Silence, the new documentary about Carthusian monks in the French Alps (“The Possibility of Finding God — on Film,” Feb. 18), a number of readers have called or written to ask about venues and show dates. This one’s not at the multiplex — yet, anyway — but it is playing at select cinemas around the country until at least June. There’s a link to a national screening schedule at

— Editor