Pope John Paul II appealed again for a peaceful settlement of the crisis in Iraq and sent a high-level envoy to Baghdad to press for greater Iraqi cooperation with U.N. weapons inspectors. Cardinal Roger Etchegaray left for Baghdad on Feb. 10 on a mission to “help the Iraqi authorities make a serious reflection on the duty of effective international cooperation, based on justice and international law, in view of assuring the supreme gift of peace to its people,” a Vatican statement said. Cardinal Etchegaray said he planned to deliver a personal message from the pope to Iraqi President Saddam Hussein.
The move was welcomed by the U.S. Ambassador to the Vatican, Jim Nicholson, who told Catholic News Service on Feb. 10 that “if there’s anyone that might be able to get Hussein to listen to reason, it might be the pope.... We welcome the engagement of the Holy Father as a positive force in trying to get Saddam Hussein to comply with the U.N. resolutions and to protect his people and the rest of the world from war. The decision really rests with him,” Nicholson said.
The Vatican’s diplomatic move, announced on Feb. 9, came a day after the pope warned that “peace is in danger.... We need to multiply our efforts. One cannot be immobile in the face of terrorist attacks, nor when faced with the threats that are being raised on the horizon. One should not give up, as if war is inevitable,” he said on Feb. 8 in a speech to the Sant’Egidio Community, an Italian lay group that has worked for peace around the world.
In an interview with the Rome newspaper La Repubblica, Cardinal Etchegaray said the pope’s aim was to promote any possible avenue of preserving peace in the region. “War would be a catastrophe in every respect. Above all, it would have grave consequences for the Iraqi population and would also make it increasingly difficult for the United Nations to work for the unity of the human family,” Cardinal Etchegaray said. The cardinal said a war would aggravate relations between the West and Muslim countries.
Last fall, the pope wrote to U.S. President George W. Bush and Saddam Hussein, making the arguments for a peaceful resolution of the crisis. In recent weeks, Vatican officials have strongly warned against a pre-emptive military attack on Iraq, especially if it were carried out without U.N. authorization.Jesuits Say Military Intervention in Iraq Impossible to Justify
Unconvinced of the need to attack Iraq yet sure of the devastation a war would bring, the social justice office of the Jesuit headquarters in Rome has called for creative reflection and public action for peace. The Social Justice Secretariat of the Society of Jesus, in consultation with the staff of the order’s Rome headquarters, outlined opposition to the war in a letter dated Feb. 7 sent to all Jesuit provinces. “We believe, with many others, that the reasons for a pre-emptive attack against Iraq are not convincing, and the effects of a possible war will turn out to be so devastating that it becomes very difficult, if not impossible, to justify a military intervention,” the statement said.
The letter, signed by Fernando Franco, S.J., head of the secretariat, called for “a considered and prayerful reflection on the main reasons that militate against war on Iraq.” The social justice office said its opposition was based on several considerations:
“The ‘doctrine’ of a pre-emptive war is neither in accordance with U.N. doctrine and law, nor morally defensible. The application of this doctrine would open the door to an infinite war, a ‘war without end.’”
A war against Iraq would heighten tensions between Muslims and Christians in the Middle East and beyond.
A willingness to spend massive amounts of money on a military action, but not on development aid makes one ask “whether the true motives of war against Iraq have to do more with economic than security reasons.”
The push for a war is being made “unilaterally by the leaders of a few industrialized countries outside the control of the U.N.,” and the United States and its allies seem to have disregarded the “obligation to build a broader consensus through legitimate democratic processes.”
“Experience has shown us that the poor are always the main victims of violence and war.”
The Jesuit headquarters called on members of the order to strengthen their efforts against violence and in favor of peace. The letter asked each Jesuit province to encourage people to “creatively reflect on these issues, prepare some plans of public action and discern concrete ways of collaborating with others.”Jesuit Colleges Observe Day of Prayer for Peace on Feb. 13
U.S. Jesuit colleges and universities will show their solidarity for international peace on Feb. 13 as campuses across the country participate in a Day of Prayer for Peace. Every one of the 28 Jesuit institutions has organized or planned activities to promote awareness for a peaceful resolution to the conflict with Iraq. In addition to interfaith prayer services, Masses and lectures, Jesuit college and university campuses have found unique ways to call attention to their antiwar efforts.
To demonstrate its solidarity with its sister institutions, the University of Scranton will hold an evening candlelight vigil with 28 luminary bags representing each of the Jesuit colleges and universities. The university will fill half a bag of rice wrapped in the quote: “If your enemies are hungry, then feed them (Rom 12:20). Please do not attack Iraq.” The bag will be sent to the President of the United States.
At Loyola University New Orleans, the university published a brochure consisting of excerpts from the statements against war by the U.S. bishops, the U.S. Jesuit provincials and the pope, who recently proclaimed to the diplomatic corps on Jan. 13, 2003, “War is not always inevitable; it is always a defeat for humanity.” Loyola plans to publish a second brochure on the personal, economic and political effects of a war with Iraq.
Similarly, the campus ministry office at the University of Detroit Mercy will prepare and provide a handout with a compilation of recent official church statements about the Iraq situation. The university plans to distribute this news item to the entire campus, and particularly to faculty members who may be able to refer to it in class discussions.
At Santa Clara University, there will be an interactive memorial, dedicated to victims of combat, which will feature reflections and facts about war. A large conference room has been reserved for the entire day of Thursday Feb. 13 for individuals to express their responses to war with written reflections or drawings. These items will be added to the memorial. “With the likelihood of war, this day should renew our desire for world peace,” said Paul Locatelli, S.J., president of Santa Clara University. “Jesuit colleges and universities will debate the issues in search of truth and justice and appropriate action while we pray that, even at this late hour, a peaceful resolution may be found.”
Students have been very active in planning and participating in the peace events. At Fordham University, in New York City, students organized a Season of Non-Violence, which started on Jan. 30 (the anniversary date of Gandhi’s assassination) and will run through April 4 (Martin Luther King Jr.’s assassination); students at Fairfield University in Connecticut held a peace dinner on Feb. 9 and planned an interfaith vigil for peace on Feb. 11; and students at Spring Hill College, Mobile, Ala., will hold a demonstration that will offer individuals the opportunity to sign a letter of protest addressed to President Bush.
“The threat of war in Iraq has brought our campuses together in genuine solidarity as they confront the grave issues of life and death, now and into the future,” said Charles Currie, S.J., president of the Association of Jesuit Colleges and Universities. “Concerned students, faculty and staff are grappling with these complex issues. As faith-based communities, we are praying for peace in Iraq and for wisdom among our leaders.”Vatican Yearbook Shows Small Decrease in Number of Priests
The Vatican’s latest statistical report shows a continuing decline in the number of priests in the world, but an increase in the number of seminarians. Meanwhile, the worldwide Catholic population reached 1.06 billion at the end of 2001, an increase of nearly 1 percent from the previous year. The statistics were released on Feb. 8.
The Vatican said the number of priests declined by 111 during 2001. That reflected a decrease of 778 in religious order priests and an increase of 667 diocesan priests. The number of seminarians increased 1.5 percent over the same period, from 110,583 to 112,244. The most significant increases came in Asia, Africa and the Americas, while Europe and Oceania registered a reduction. The Vatican said other sectors of the pastoral workforce increased significantly in 2001: permanent deacons increased 4.9 percent, members of secular institutes were up 2.7 percent, lay missionaries increased 10.1 percent and catechists were up 6.5 percent.News Briefs
California’s budget crisis could push already-stretched Catholic Charities services past their limit, according to Catholic agency officials. “Elected leaders often assume that if there are cuts to the poor, the churches can step in and make the difference. But so many parishes are maxed out,” said Rick Mockler, executive director of Catholic Charities of California.
Cardinal Jean-Marie Lustiger of Paris told a New York audience on Feb. 10 that Jews and Christians need to work together in confronting challenges both faiths face in the modern world, rather than focus on the issues that divide them.