Pope Francis has called on Catholics around the world and “other Christian brethren,” “brethren of other religions,” and “men and women of good will” to join him in fasting and prayer this weekend. As the United States debates military strikes against Syria, the Holy Father pleads for peace.
As he did when going to the Sicilian island of Lampedusa in July, where refugees from the “Arab Spring” have been pouring in as they flee the violence and turmoil of their native lands, Pope Francis is speaking from the depths of his heart, expressing the pain of the Divine Heart, at what we are doing here. Those horrific images of children, women, and men suffering and dying from the effects of chemical weapons used in Syria have provoked a lively debate about what we can do to stop the horror. We can’t look away. And yet, what is the justice served by a military strike against Syria? What are the lessons of that failed “Spring,” of interventions and non-interventions of the recent past? According to Church teaching on “just war,” military action must always be a last resort, not simply a “Hail Mary pass” hoping for a positive outcome.
In his appeal, Pope Francis said:
I appeal strongly for peace, an appeal which arises from the deep within me. How much suffering, how much devastation, how much pain has the use of arms carried in its wake in that martyred country, especially among civilians and the unarmed! I think of many children will not see the light of the future! With utmost firmness I condemn the use of chemical weapons: I tell you that those terrible images from recent days are burned into my mind and heart. There is a judgment of God and of history upon our actions which are inescapable! Never has the use of violence brought peace in its wake. War begets war, violence begets violence.The pope’s own “Hail Mary pass,” of course, is so much more than that, and involves actual Hail Marys — pleading prayers to our Blessed Mother, the Mother of God, who lived a mother’s worst pain and who walks with us in prayer as our immaculate model of doing God’s will in the midst of the world. The pope turns the world to focus on she who leads us straight to her Son, whose life, death, and Resurrection offer us the promise of eternal peace with Him. And the pope calls us to pray together this weekend as we remember the birth of Mary, Queen of Peace.
This weekend, in particular, Pope Francis asks:
Let us ask Mary to help us to respond to violence, to conflict and to war, with the power of dialogue, reconciliation and love. She is our mother: may she help us to find peace; all of us are her children! Help us, Mary, to overcome this most difficult moment and to dedicate ourselves each day to building in every situation an authentic culture of encounter and peace. Mary, Queen of Peace, pray for us!This is far from the first time Pope Francis — or any pontiff — has urged the world to meditate on, work for, and pray for peace. Pope Benedict XVI spoke of the essential role of the family in creating a culture of peace. The Second Vatican Council described peace as “the fruit of that right ordering of things with which the divine founder has invested human society and which must be actualized by man thirsting for an ever more perfect reign of justice.” The word “peace,” as Pope Paul VI wrote, “oppresses us and exalts us. It is not ours; it comes down from the invisible kingdom, the kingdom of heaven.”
In the heat of this debate, the Pope Francis peace talk accomplishes much more than any news headlines are able to process. The peace of which Pope Francis speaks is nearly impossible to imagine, to comprehend, or even to entertain as a possibility as we view the photos of the more than 14,000 innocent civilians – including many children and entire families, who have been innocent casualties of chemical attacks – at a time when neither Syrian Christians nor Coptic Christians in Egypt have much of a reason to feel safe.
Because the wielding of worldly and military power is not well-known for encouraging habits of virtue, even the most adventuresome oddsmakers in Vegas would not bet on the prospect of peace reigning in the hearts of men and women who walk the halls of power. That is one of the many reasons why the pope’s appeal for peace offers so much more in the way of hope than all the saber-rattling in the world possibly could.
We pray for the eternal peace of those who have been brutally killed in Syria. We pray that men and women of good will may rise up as leaders and healers. We pray that there may be peace, both as a geopolitical matter and within the hearts of all who are immersed in this conflict.
The former doesn’t have a shot without the latter. That’s the leadership Christians are called to demonstrate in this life. And that’s one of the themes that have been overflowing during Pope Francis’s first six months in office.
One morning in April, Pope Francis preached about the peace of Christ. From the homily as printed in L'Osservatore Romano:
The Christian, even in the most painful trials, never loses “the peace and the presence of Jesus” and with “a little courage”, we are able to say to the Lord: “Lord, give me this grace that is the sign of our encounter with you: spiritual consolation”; and, above all, he emphasized, “never lose peace”. We look to the Lord, who “suffered so upon the Cross, but he never lost his peace. Peace, this peace, is not our own: it is not sold and we do not buy it”. It is a gift of God for which we must beg. Peace is like “the final step of this spiritual consolation, which begins with a joyful wonder”.On our Labor Day here in the United States, he talked, not for the first time, about how words can kill. He pointed to the radical call of Christianity:
Jesus says that when “you begin to feel something negative in your heart” against one of your brethren and express it “with an insult, a curse or an outburst of anger, something is wrong. You must convert, you must change”.His July homily in Lampedusa might wind up as one of his most important in awakening the world to what we are doing to ourselves and to one another whenever we perpetrate violence and are indifferent to the urgent needs of others who suffer.
Pope Francis reflected there: “How many of us, myself included, have lost our bearings; we are no longer attentive to the world in which we live; we don’t care; we don’t protect what God created for everyone, and we end up unable even to care for one another! And when humanity as a whole loses its bearings, it results in tragedies like the one we have witnessed.”
Today no one in our world feels responsible; we have lost a sense of responsibility for our brothers and sisters. We have fallen into the hypocrisy of the priest and the Levite whom Jesus described in the parable of the Good Samaritan: we see our brother half dead on the side of the road, and perhaps we say to ourselves: “poor soul…!”, and then go on our way. It’s not our responsibility, and with that we feel reassured, assuaged. The culture of comfort, which makes us think only of ourselves, makes us insensitive to the cries of other people, makes us live in soap bubbles which, however lovely, are insubstantial; they offer a fleeting and empty illusion which results in indifference to others; indeed, it even leads to the globalization of indifference. In this globalized world, we have fallen into globalized indifference. We have become used to the suffering of others: it doesn’t affect me; it doesn’t concern me; it’s none of my business!Specifically on the topic of Syria, writing to Russian president Vladimir Putin this week as the G20 summit was set to begin, Pope Francis echoed this same obligation for statesmen: “All governments have the moral duty to do everything possible to ensure humanitarian assistance to those suffering because of the conflict, both within and beyond the country’s borders.”
I am consoled that there is largely a consensus of outrage about the killings in Syria here at home and among many throughout the world. But this, too, does prompt questions: Why is our present outrage focused only there? Why do we not feel and express pain whenever any innocent is killed, whenever any woman or man is suffering? Who do we walk by? And how much easier is it for us to act on our outrage when it involves an act of violence that promises to be a “quick in and out” without considering the foreseeable long-term effects and sacrifices we are bound to experience our lives here at home?
Last weekend, President Barack Obama argued for intervention in Syria pointing to the “assault on human dignity” perpetrated by the Assad regime. We have some of those close to home; 40 years of legal abortion have poisoned our natural soul and are indeed assaults on human dignity, violence of the most intimate sort.
On Lampedusa, Pope Francis asked:
“Adam, where are you?” “Where is your brother?” These are the two questions which God asks at the dawn of human history, and which he also asks each man and woman in our own day, which he also asks us. But I would like us to ask a third question: “Has any one of us wept because of this situation and others like it?” Has any one of us grieved for the death of these brothers and sisters? Has any one of us wept for these persons who were on the boat? For the young mothers carrying their babies? For these men who were looking for a means of supporting their families? We are a society which has forgotten how to weep, how to experience compassion — “suffering with” others: the globalization of indifference has taken from us the ability to weep! In the Gospel we have heard the crying, the wailing, the great lamentation: “Rachel weeps for her children… because they are no more.” Herod sowed death to protect his own comfort, his own soap bubble. And so it continues… Let us ask the Lord to remove the part of Herod that lurks in our hearts; let us ask the Lord for the grace to weep over our indifference, to weep over the cruelty of our world, of our own hearts, and of all those who in anonymity make social and economic decisions which open the door to tragic situations like this. “Has any one wept?” Today has anyone wept in our world?Pope Francis’s call to prayer this weekend is a call to weep for the blood that cries out in Syria, in Egypt, and here at home, as well. It is a day for trust in God, that in our faithfulness, he will provide the only certainty and true hope. As we weep, we meditate on what it is He calls us to in this world. We remember what this pope’s first encyclical says about how faith illuminates everything. Violence doesn’t provide coherence, faith does. And so we pray.
Kathryn Jean Lopez is editor-at-large of National Review Online and a nationally syndicated columnist. She is a director of Catholic Voices USA and blogs on Catholic things at K-Lo@Large.