The pastoral message Living With Faith and Hope After September 11, which the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops issued during its meeting in mid-November in Washington, D.C., promises to be a landmark document. It certainly provides inspiring material for preaching in the months ahead, as we help one another come to terms with a changed world and the challenges we face.
The Beatitudes of Matthew’s Gospel introduce the statement: blessing those who mourn, promising comfort; blessing those who quest for righteousness, promising satisfaction; blessing the merciful and the peacemakers. Noting that the words of Jesus challenge us and offer us hope as our community of faith responds to the terrible recent events, the bishops themselves offer words of consolation, criteria for moral discernment and a call to solidarity.
We are united during these days by our experience of loss, pain and anger, but also by our determination in the face of these terrorist attacks. The selflessness and heroism of firefighters, police and all who gave their lives in the service of others stand as an example, a countersign in a world that is losing respect for human life. Recognizing that the dreadful deeds of Sept. 11 cannot go unanswered, the bishops continue to urge resolve, restraint and greater attention to the roots of terrorism to protect against further attacks and to advance the global common good.
The bishops give a general overview of the legitimacy of military force when it is necessary to defend the common good by protecting the innocent against mass terrorism, and they speak of the grave moral obligation to act justly in any such action. They stress that our government must continue to respect the basic rights of all persons, with special attention to the rights of immigrants and refugees. In our defense of the common good, we must never lose sight of the basic ideals of freedom, fairness and openness that are hallmarks of our society. They add that we must not allow ourselves to be captured by fear, and we must not trade freedom for security.
Stating again that no injustice legitimizes the horror we have experienced, they remind all that a more just world will be a more peaceful world, and they recall the ringing words of Pope Paul VI: If you want peace, work for justice. In light of this, they mention certain situations that must receive urgent attention, among them the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, the suffering of people in Iraq, the widespread abuse of human rights, poverty, corruption and hopelessness. All these are exploited by terrorists for their own ends. The establishment of a more just international, social and political order is a responsibility incumbent upon us, given the prominence of our country. While our first responsibility is to the common good of our own society, we have an inescapable obligation to promote the global common good as well.
Specifically, the bishops restate their support for real security for Israel and the establishment of a viable state for Palestinians. They deplore the continuing comprehensive economic sanctions against Iraq that are causing horrendous suffering. They call further attention to the systematic campaign of terror being waged by the govern- ment of Sudan against its own people.
Turning to the essential tasks of our own community of faith, the bishops point out that our changed world requires us to approach these tasks with new urgency and concentration. They call on Catholics to join in a National Day of Prayer for Peace on Jan. 1, 2002, and urge Catholics to fast one day a week as a sacrifice for justice, peace and for the protection of innocent human life. They note that this is a time to share the church’s teaching on war and peace and urge dialogue with other Christians and with other faith communities. The bishops exhort all to witness to our values of mutual respect, human dignity and respect for life. In our quest for security we must not embrace discrimination.
This is also a time for generous and sacrificial giving. Catholic Relief Services is providing critical aid to refugees and doing invaluable work throughout Central Asia and the Middle East. Catholic Charities throughout the United States is providing assistance to those affected by the attacks. These are but two of the ways we stand in solidarity with all those whose lives are at risk and whose dignity is denied in this dangerous world.
Finally, the bishops remind us that we need to turn to God and to one another in hope. Hope assures us that, with God’s grace, we will see our way through what now seems such a daunting challenge. Living out the Gospel of Jesus Christ in these days of trial, we must be nourished by prayer, penance and acts of charity and solidarity. Then we will be strengthening our community of faith and hope.