Pope Francis’ urgent call for peace: “Brothers stop. Stop!”

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By Elisabeth Hellenbroich

On October 22nd Pope Francis in a dramatic appeal at St. Peter’s square made reference to the ongoing Israel- Palestine conflict by stating: “Once more my thoughts turn to what is happening in Israel and Palestine. I am very concerned, grieved. I pray and I am close to all those who are suffering: the hostages, the wounded, the victims and their relatives. I think of the serious situation in Gaza and I am saddened that the Anglican hospital and the Greek- Orthodox parish have also been hit in recent days. I renew my appeal for space to be opened for humanitarian aid to continue to arrive, and for the hostages to be freed (…) War, any war that there is in the world- I also think of tormented Ukraine- is a defeat. War is always a defeat; it is a destruction of human fraternity. Brothers stop. Stop!”

As an “impartial observer” of manifold actual crisis and wars, this pope has been relentlessly urging world leaders, to open their hearts and minds to the cruel reality of the devastating wars and the suffering which so many peoples have to face. Several days ago he called US President Joe Biden urging him to do diplomatically all in his power that is needed to bring about peace.

The passion for peace and justice we could also witness during some of the pope’s recent pastoral visits- one in Mongolia (September 2nd) whose small community of about 1500 Catholics he visited in order to bring them the message of hope and peace. It was quite fascinating to see the pope at the meeting with the Mongolian Prime Minister, members of the government and Diplomatic Corps, stating in front of them that “777 Years ago between August and September 1246, Fra Giovanni di Pian del Carpine, a papal envoy gave the Great Khan an official writing from Pope Innozenz  IV, which got translated in different languages.” This document, he said, was in the Vatican Archives and he gave a precious copy of it to the Mongolian Prime Minister. He spoke about the wide space of the territory of Mongolia and its children who have their “view gaze over the wide horizons to count the animals.” And he praised the wisdom of the Mongolian people stating that despite the fact that the catholic community is small, it plays a “role by spreading culture of solidarity of respect for all and culture of interreligious dialogue, by engaging for justice peace and social harmony.”

A similar optimistic tone could be witnessed during Pope Francis’ weekend trip (September 21/22) to the French southern city Marseille, where he also met French President Emmanuel Macron. At  the occasion of his pastoral visit and in a special address given  to the “Rencontres Méditerranéennes” (Conference on the Mediterranean), he characterized the city of Marseille as “the smile of the Mediterranean”, an ancient city, founded by Greek sailors who came from Asia Minor and which displayed from the beginning a diverse and cosmopolitan character.  A city, “characterized by the sea, the port and the lighthouse with a great multiethnic and multicultural tradition with more than 60 consulates in its territory. The exchanges that have taken place between peoples have made the Mediterranean the “cradle of civilization”, the pope stated.  “Our sea (mare nostrum) is a place of encounter: among the Abrahamic religions; among Greek, Latin and Arabic thought; among science, philosophy and law; and among many other realities”. He particularly expressed hope that the Mediterranean can “return to being a ‘laboratory of peace’, for this is its vocation, to be a place where different countries and realities can encounter each other on the basis of humanity.” In reference to Paul VI encyclical “Populorum Progressio” (1963) he spoke about the “effort to build a more human world community where the progress of some is not at the expense of others.”

In Marseille the pope also addressed the migration issue demanding not to make our sea a “Mare mortuum”, but to offer welcome to migrants that have to be protected or accompanied, promoted and integrated. Integration would be a tiring effort but farsighted, otherwise he warned of provoking “Ghettoization” which in turn sparks hostilities and intolerance.  But Marseille would also be a lighthouse, a great university city, home to four campuses of its 35.000- among them 5000 foreigners. Young people there are attracted by the dream to building the future. “May the Mediterranean universities be laboratories of dreams and workshops of the future, where young people mature by encountering one another, coming to know one another and discovering cul1tures and contexts both near and diverse.”

“Pacem in Terris”- 60 years later

The actual situation in many aspects is similar to the one which humanity had to face during the Cuban Missile Crisis 1962, where thanks to the courageous dialogue between U.S. President J.F. Kennedy and Soviet General Secretary Nikita Khrushchev, a horrendous nuclear war could be avoided in the last minute.  In this period, on April 4th 1963, Pope John XXIII wrote a historically unique document “Pacem in Terris” which was not only addressed to Christians but to “all people of Good Will”, since the question of “peace” cannot be resolved, it was stated, if there is no harmony among brothers, or worse mistrust and if hostility prevails among nations and peoples.

One should add to this that at the occasion of a commemorating international Conference on “Pacem in Terris” in Rome September 19/ 20 under the chairmanship of the Ghana Cardinal  Peter Turkson from the Pontifical Academy of Social Sciences, Pope Francis sent a special message to the conference, in which he stated  according to the catholic magazine “Omnes” that “the present moment bears an eerie resemblance to the period immediately preceding the ‘Pacem in Terris’ document and the Cuban missile crisis  that brought the world to the brink of “widespread nuclear destruction” in October 1962. He further stated that “the work of the United Nations and related organizations to raise public awareness and promote appropriate regulatory measures remains crucial.” (Such statement is all the more relevant if one takes into account the vicious attacks against that are launched right now against these institutions and the attempts to undermine it’s role e.h.).

Cardinal Turkson at the occasion of the conference correctly emphasized that “the immorality of weapons and diplomacy must be countered by the moral authority, impartiality and diplomacy of the Pontiff and the Holy See, when there are conflicts between nations, one side is not chosen, but they are considered as two sons at war.” He further stressed that “Pacem in Terris” is a “testament to humanity”, an invitation to humanity to consider that without respect for the dignity of persons, their freedom, love and trust, a culture of peace cannot be cultivated”. Pope Francis in his message also referred to the grave risks associated with the continued possession of nuclear weapons, and called for the urgent “need for renewed progress in disarmament and the development of peace building initiative.”

The main principles of “Peace on Earth” document

A close look at the 60 year old encyclical which had as subtitle: “On establishing universal peace in truth, justice, charity and liberty,” demonstrates that the conflict which we are facing today among the nations and states, is essentially one that touches upon the question what  principles society and the community of nations in the world s1hould be based upon. The very principles that the encyclical is based upon, is the respect for the principle of “divine natural law.” It expresses the essence of the human person and of society which is supposed to develop the “common Good” for the “benefit of all – including the socially disabled and minorities.”

“Any human society that is established on relations of force must be regarded as inhuman, in as much as the personality of its members is repressed or restricted, when in fact they should be provided with appropriate incentives and means for developing and perfecting themselves,” the document states (34). It further underlines that “the order which prevails in society is by nature ‘moral’. Grounded as it is in truth, it must function according to the norm of justice, it should be inspired and perfected by mutual love, and finally it should be brought to an ever more refined balance in freedom.”   In respect to the relations among nations, the encyclical underlined that “nations are reciprocally subjects of rights and duties. This means that their relationships also must be harmonized in truth, in justice, in a working solidarity, in liberty. The same natural law, which governs relations between individual human beings, serves also to regulate the relations of nations with one another.” (80)  Civil authorities in order to act in line with the principles of justice, it is stated in the encyclical should take  effective measures  “to improve the lot of the citizens of an ethnic minority, particularly when that betterment concerns their language, the development of their natural gifts, their ancestral customs, and their accomplishments and endeavors in the economic order.”(96)

“Justice, the right reason and consideration for human dignity and life urgently demand that the arms race should cease; that the stockpiles which exist in various countries should be reduced equally and simultaneously by the parties concerned; that nuclear weapons should be banned; and finally that all come to an agreement on a fitting program of disarmament, employing mutual and effective controls.”(112)

At the end the encyclical refers to the very important role of the United Nations (U.N.),  which  was established on June 26, 1945,  and whose essential purpose is “the maintenance and consolidation of peace between peoples, fostering between them friendly relations, based on the principles of equality, mutual respect and varied forms of cooperation in every day sector of human endeavor.” Of immense importance was the “Declaration of Human Rights” which was approved in the General Assembly in December 10, 1948., the Encyclical emphasized and referred to the fact that in the “preamble of that Declaration the recognition and respect of those rights and respective liberties is proclaimed as a goal to be achieved by all peoples and all countries. (143). Hence, “the need to face the task of magnanimous men, namely to establish with truth, justice, charity and liberty new methods of relationships in human society: the relations among individual citizens, among citizens and their own countries, among nations themselves, among individuals, families, intermediate associations and individual states on the one hand, and with the community of all mankind on the other. This is the most exalted task, for it is the task of bringing about true peace in the order established by God.”(163)

By studying this encyclical, it becomes clear that what we above all need today is a “true moral authority”. Pope Francis had recently emphasized that “unless there is a ‘change of heart’ in the thinking of politically responsible people, all efforts to secure peace and justice are in vain.

A contrary view

A very striking and psychologically revealing signal for a “frozen heart” was given by an article that was published in the magazine “Foreign Affairs” by Robert M. Gates, former US Secretary of Defense from 2006 to 2011, aside his post as director of the CIA, a staunch Neo- Con and representative probably of what some in the US like Prof. Mearsheimer would characterize the “Deep State” and the “Military industrial Complex.” The article was published September 29 under the title: “The dysfunctional  Superpower. Can a divided America deter China and Russia?”

The article is filled with a lot of invectives and prejudices.  It is a plea for starting in the US and world wide a massive “propaganda campaign”, with the aim to mobilize American society as well as US allies around the theme that the US is the sole hegemon on earth.  And that the US will do everything to reassure its hegemonic position in the present day conflict (Ukraine/Mideast). Gates is apparently deeply frustrated about what he calls a “Dysfunctional  US” with its strongly polarized society and self -paralysis in congress concerning fiscal financial matters.  “Political leaders have failed to explain how the threats posed by these countries (China, Russia, Iran et cetera E.H.) are interconnected. They have failed to articulate a long- term strategy to ensure that the United States and democratic values more broadly will prevail.” Concerning Russia and China – Gates sees them as two countries that see their destiny tied to the revival of their “imperial past”. “For Putin this means pushing an awkward mixture of reviving the Russian Empire. Both leaders are convinced that the developed democracies – above all the United States are past their prime and have entered an irreversible decline. This decline they believe is evident in these democracies’ growing isolationism, political polarization and domestic disarray.”

Gates is particularly obsessed with China and its strategy at increasing its power and influence globally, being now the top trading partner of more than 120 countries.” More than 140 countries have signed up as participants in the Belt and Road Initiative… and with its propaganda that the West is in “decline”, Gates stated.. At the same time Putin with his imperial aims, who is “emboldened by his partnership with Xi and confident that his modernized nuclear arsenal will deter military action against Russia, will continue to aggressively challenge the Unites States.” “All told, the United States spends more on defense than the next ten countries combined, including Russia and China (sic !)” Gates proudly states.

Yet he deplores that “America’s dysfunction and policy failures are undermining its success, which is above all evident in the congressional debates about the US budget and military requirements that paralyze the U.S.  Therefore he states that a   “drumbeat of repetition is required for the message to sink in”. (sic) “American global leadership has provided 75 years of great power peace- the longest stretch in centuries! (…) Failing to deal with aggressors only encourages more aggression. It is naïve to believe that Russian success in Ukraine will not lead to further Russian aggression in Europe and possibly even war between NATO and Russia,” and it is equally naïve to believe that Russian success in Ukraine will not significantly increase the likelihood of Chinese aggression against Taiwan and thus potentially a war between the United States and China.”

A world without reliable U.S. leadership would be a world of authoritarian predators, with all other countries potential prey,”  Gates threatened .

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