The Pope says in his message, “…wherever and whenever men and women are enlightened by the splendor of truth, they naturally set out on the path of peace.” He asks about obstacles to our being enlightened by the truth of peace and mentions some. First, he mentions the “father of lies” who led our first parents into sin at the beginning of human history. Pope Benedict points out how lies continue in “aberrant ideological and political systems” which twisted the truth in the last century and brought about the exploitation and murder of an appalling number of men and women, of entire families and communities. Second, he mentions terrorism, which stems either from nihilism that denies the very existence of truth or from fanatical fundamentalism that tries to impose truth by force. Both causes of terrorism show a dangerous contempt for human beings and human life and ultimately for God himself. “Nihilism denies God’s existence and his provident presence in history, while fanatical fundamentalism disfigures his loving and merciful countenance.”
The Holy Father speaks about nuclear disarmament and the search for an international order respectful of cultural and national differences. He notes signs of hope in peace negotiations, especially in the Holy Land. He encourages those in military service to contribute to the establishment of peace and tells military chaplains to be “faithful heralds of the truth of peace.” He supports the United Nations organization as an instrument of human solidarity, even as he calls for its renewal in order to respond to the challenges of globalization. He asks for prayers for peace as a gift from God and for honesty in human political discussions. “The foundations of authentic peace rest on the truth about God and man.”
The Pope’s message makes no explicit mention of the conflict that most disturbs the peace of this country at the beginning of 2006: the war in Iraq. I’m not sure why a message on the connection between truth and peace does not discuss a war that many have come to believe was entered into based on inaccurate information. Quite apart from any judgment about the value of the factual information given to justify attacking Iraq, the Holy See objected that a pre-emptive strike against a country not actually invading another country does not fit easily into the “just war theory” the Church uses to make moral judgments about war and peace. The Holy See therefore, while recognizing that the former Iraqi regime threatened peace, insistently cautioned the United States against invading Iraq. The U.S. bishops spoke in similar, if somewhat less insistent terms before the attack began. Once the war began, however, both the Holy See and the U.S. bishops have said that our country is not free simply to withdraw from Iraq and leave chaos behind. Even an arguably immoral invasion brings moral responsibilities to the invader.
What are the truths that lead the U.S. bishops to turn from the argument that our very presence causes conflicts we cannot solve? I doubt that any account can give a totally accurate picture of a country torn by war, but I want only to tell a few truths here about the condition of Christians in Iraq. Their situation is not often mentioned in reports about the war, yet it should influence the judgment of those of us who share their faith. Bishops in one country listen to bishops from another, and the Catholic bishops of Iraq are worried about the fate and the future of the people in their care.
The Christian population of Iraq represents only three percent of the country’s estimated 26 million inhabitants. The great majority of these Christians are members of the Chaldean Catholic Church, the oldest of the Eastern Churches in communion with the Holy See. Other Christians are Orthodox and some are Protestant. Though the Muslim majority generally tolerates them, for the Islamic extremists they are infidels and collaborators of “the invading army of crusaders.” There are strong pressures to convert to Islam. This campaign against Christians has been spearheaded by a group that calls itself “The Brigade to Eliminate Christian Agents and Spies.”
Christian students at Iraqi universities seem to be a particular target. Fifteen hundred Christians at one large university have decided to interrupt their studies after receiving death threats by an Islamic group that has taken over the university. Christian women are under constant pressure to wear the burka. Christian shopkeepers who had been permitted to sell alcohol have been forced to close their shops. Christian hairdressers have lost their businesses because some interpret Muslim law to forbid the cutting of hair.
All of this has devastating effect on the day to day life of Christians. Last Christmas, most Chaldean churches cancelled Midnight Mass because large Christian gatherings attract perpetrators of violence. Some Church buildings have been attacked, with loss of life. In the elections, though there were no less than eight Christian parties running candidates, few Christians were able to vote. Most Christians are in the Sunni provinces and, for reasons of security, fewer polling booths seem to have been provided there.
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