Two-Pronged War Strategy

Pope John Paul II took the opportunity of the 40th anniversary of Blessed John XXIII's encyclical on peace, Pacem in Terris, to once again pray for “peace in Iraq and in all other parts of the world.”

“Even today the encyclical has an extraordinary currency,” said the Holy Father during his Angelus address on April 6.

“Peacemaking is a ‘permanent duty.’ The reality of these days has demonstrated that in a dramatic way.”

“My thoughts go, in particular, to Iraq and to those involved in the war which rages there,” he continued, praying for a quick end to the conflict. “I think in a special way of the helpless civilian population which in various cities has been put under a hard trial.”

Blessed John XXIII published Pacem in Terris on April 11, 1963, only a few months before his death and in the aftermath of the Cuban Missile Crisis of October 1962. That makes the encyclical relevant to the current crisis — commentators on both sides of the Iraq war have invoked the example of the Cuban Missile Crisis.

War supporters point out that, after discovering Soviet missiles in Cuba, President John F. Kennedy essentially launched a war that was both pre-emptory and defensive. The American naval blockade of Cuba — an act of war — was implemented to prevent the capability of attack, even though no attack was imminent.

Critics of the war counter that the Cuban Missile Crisis illustrates just the opposite, namely that diplomacy backed by the threat of force can in fact settle disputes without resort to armed conflict. Applying this to Iraq, the lesson would be that the inspections process backed by the threat of invasion could have produced a nonviolent resolution.

The latter approach is what was advocated before the war began by senior officials of the Holy See.

But the Holy Father does not, in the end, put all of his hopes on diplomacy. What he has in mind is a two-pronged approach.

In October, John Paul read the signs of the times and, seeing conflicts escalating in the Holy Land, in the land of Abraham, and throughout the world, he declared this year the “Year of the Rosary.”

It's in that year's spirit that he ended his April 6 angelus address. “With great trust we continue to turn to Our Lady,” he said, “praying for peace in Iraq and in other parts of the world.”

It may seem odd to have such trust in our prayers for peace, even in the face of war. But there's no doubt the Pope really has that level of confidence:

“God willing, may this conflict end soon and open the way to a new era of forgiveness, love and peace,” the Pope added.

Many have commented on photographs from Iraq that the Register has used on its front page in the weeks since the war began.

In the first issue after fighting began, two rosaries graced Page One. Above the fold, a Baghdad girl, one of Iraq's 3 million Christians, prayed the rosary with her mother, anxious looks on their faces. Below the fold, a marine prayed the rosary after Mass, closing his eyes in meditation.

These photos remind us of the terrible cost of war — and the nobility of those who fight them. But they also show that the Holy Father's hopes are not absurd. Catholic Marines and many of the Iraqis they hope to liberate are united in the same prayer to Our Lady for peace.

Catholics on both sides are already united in prayer. Isn't that in itself a sign of the peace that the Pope is asking for us to pray for?

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