NEW YORK — Pope John Paul II has sent to all heads of state and government a document produced at the interfaith prayer meeting in Assisi in January, and his representative at the United Nations has republished it for all delegates there.
“Our mission here is to make sure his words reach the ears of U.N. listeners,” said Archbishop Renato Martino, permanent observer of the Holy See to the United Nations. “For it to reach their hearts, we pray to the Holy Spirit.”
Pope John Paul feels that is important, as the Assisi meeting took place against the backdrop of terrorism and war. He sent the meeting's Decalogue for Peace on March 4 expressing his conviction that it will be able to inspire political and social action.
The decalogue is a list of 10 things religious leaders have committed themselves to, including the proclamation that violence and terrorism are “incompatible with the authentic Spirit of religion.”
James Nicholson, the U.S. ambassador to the Vatican, expressed confidence that, coming from “such a highly respected moral voice” as Pope John Paul, the decalogue will inspire the political and social action the Holy Father hopes for.
“The Pope is right on target,” Nicholson said from his New York office. “We need to develop a mentality of humanity and of making a choice to try to reconcile and love one another rather than submit to hatred, fear and paranoia.”
But agreeing with the decalogue that governments must address the root causes of terrorism, Nicholson said the U.S. leadership does not condone pressure on governments such as the new one in Afghanistan to liberalize its abortion laws.
Humanity Must Choose
In his letter accompanying the Decalogue, the Pope wrote that the Assisi participants were “more committed than ever to a common conviction: Humanity must choose between love and hatred.”
“I hope that the spirit and commitment of Assisi will lead all men of good will to the search for truth, justice, liberty, love so that every human person will be able to enjoy his/her inalienable rights, and every nation, peace,” the Holy Father wrote. “For its part, the Catholic Church, which places its confidence and hope in ‘the God of love and peace (2 Corinthians 13:11), will continue to be committed so that loyal dialogue, reciprocal forgiveness and mutual concord will guide the course of men in this third millennium.”
Archbishop Martino said the decalogue and the Pope's letter take up matters that are discussed daily at the United Nations, including the need for dialogue.
Ideally, government leaders should call a world meeting to respond to the Pope's appeal, the archbishop said, with a hint of humor in his voice.
But he did express some optimism about the fruits of a similar world gathering, the Millennium Summit, called by the United Nations in 2000. Participants said “beautiful things” there concerning the elimination of poverty and the need for greater dialogue, much in the spirit of Assisi. But unlike other such gatherings, where the “beautiful things” are often forgotten after everyone goes home, leaders at the United Nations, including Secretary-General Kofi Annan, have kept the Millennium Summit before the delegates, reminding the General Assembly of things decided there. “It's something that was not done before,” Archbishop Martino said.
“All of this contributes to changing minds and hearts of people,” he continued. “It should be seen in the long-term effect of the conversion of world leaders.” Pope John Paul has spoken of the need for a “globalization of solidarity” to be present along with any other globalizing trend. “Repeating these appeals again, people will start to hear and meditate” on them.
The decalogue speaks of the need to promote friendship between peoples. “We are convinced that, in the absence of solidarity and understanding between peoples, technological progress exposes the world to a growing risk of destruction and death,” it says.
Assisi participants also committed themselves to doing everything possible to eliminate the root causes of terrorism, and Archbishop Martino pointed out that this has been a common theme for the Pope.
“He has said many times, and so have I since Sept. 11, that you can't eliminate terrorism with a simple police operation,” the papal representative said. “You don't eliminate 10,000 terrorists and it's over. You have to investigate the causes. So you see there are people who are hopeless because of social and political reasons. Their future is bad. If we try to modify their conditions, perhaps we won't have terrorism.”
The archbishop acknowledged the need for justice for terrorists but predicted that at the end of a long war against terrorism people will see that “the problem is bigger than a simple cleaning.”
Nicholson agreed that the war on terrorism is “multidimensional.”
“We have to eradicate terrorism,” he emphasized. “They prey on totally innocent, hapless people. It's murder in the worst form.”
He added that the United States is also committed to working on the injustices that give rise to terrorism. “The problem is to make the extremists realize and appreciate that.” In some parts of the world, he pointed out, children are taught to hate people in the West.
Nicholson credited President Bush in leading and encouraging dialogue. The president has stressed that Americans should not harbor hatred of any religion because some of its members have practiced terrorism. He has tried to show that “people have a tendency for goodness and peace,” Nicholson said.
The ambassador also defended the United States’ record in helping to establish a stable government in Afghanistan, protecting Muslim minorities in Eastern Europe and being a leading supporter of the World Food Program.
He said the United States does not condone efforts to get governments to legalize abortion. The interim government in Afghanistan legalized the procedure, which is condemned by Islam.
Earlier, the United Nations Population Fund launched a $20 million “reproductive health campaign” for Afghan refugees and is working to increase “reproductive health care,” a phrase normally understood to include abortion, and increase the use of contraceptives. A similar campaign in Kosovo in 1999 imported abortion machines, abortifacient drugs and outdated IUDs with no provision for safe removal, according to the Population Research Institute.
The institute is establishing a pro-life office in Kabul.
According to the UNFPA, the United States has pledged a contribution to the Afghan reproductive health campaign. That fact is not encouraging for those who want to see Bush refuse to make the annual U.S. contribution to the agency, which is also suspected of being in collusion with China's coercive population-control programs.
“The big picture,” however, Nicholson said, “is that our government is very interested in working together with theirs and sharing resources so they can have a better life, and realize that we can be good allies and we're not out to dominate them with our culture and religion, and they shouldn't be trying to do that to us.”