John Paul II’s Reaction to 9/11
The former U.S. ambassador to the Holy See recalls the late Holy Father's response to the terrible events 10 years ago.
Pope John Paul II, although a man of the Church, was possessed with an uncommon sense for the dynamics of globalism and the complexities of peoples and cultures.
My first one-on-one meeting with Pope John Paul II was on Sept. 13, 2001. The occasion was the formal presentation of my diplomatic credentials as the new United States ambassador to the Holy See. It was planned to be a festive occasion; instead, it was a sad event, as the world was grieving the horrific events of just 48 hours prior.
The first thing the Pope said to me was how sorry he felt for my country, which had just been attacked, and how sad it made him feel. We next said a prayer together for the victims and their families.
Then the Pope said something very profound and very revealing of his acute grasp of international terrorism. He said, “Ambassador Nicholson, this was an attack, not just on the United States, but on all of humanity.” And, then he added, “We must stop these people who kill in the name of God.”
The Pope’s words about the attackers of America on 9/11, and our need, indeed our moral obligation, “to do something” was invaluable to the U.S. in assembling a “Coalition of the Willing,” as President Bush called it. It was the Pope’s instant and keen grasp of the situation — the Afghanistan-based launching of these terrorist attacks — that compelled him to lend his moral influence to his friend and ally the United States.
He knew exactly what he was saying and the effect it would have on the other countries who were trying to decide whether or not to join us as military partners in Afghanistan against al-Qaida and its collaborators. The Pope didn’t pause, hesitate or equivocate when he communicated through me to our president and the leaders of like-minded countries to push back against those stateless terrorists who tried to align themselves under the protective wall of Afghanistan’s sovereignty.
Pope John Paul II grew up under the repressive regimes of both the Nazis and the communists. He knew well the effects on freedom and dignity that those with an ideological agenda and matching military resources could wreak on innocent people.
The Pope had played a key role in what George Weigel call the “revolution of conscience” in Poland. He was instrumental in the demise of the Soviet Union and European communism, and he was well practiced in the intricacies of using discreet moral force to influence international bodies.
Being first and foremost a man of peace, Pope John Paul II also understood the just-war doctrine of the Church and the responsibility of leaders to protect innocent people from evil forces. He respected President Bush and his “prudential judgment” in deciding what was legitimate to protect the common good.
In 2004, President Bush, with gratitude and respect for his solidarity with American values, presented the Pope with the Medal of Freedom, which is the highest award the United States bestows on a civilian.
Editor’s note: This column is courtesy of Catholic News Agency Jim Nicholson is the former U.S. ambassador to the Holy See.