During the past few days, the sights and sounds of war have invaded our homes, offices, and public facilities. Everywhere there are television monitors continually flashing the images of guided missiles crashing into buildings in downtown Baghdad and the bewildered faces of captured soldiers paraded before the cam-eras. Indeed, the sounds of exploding muni-tions echo not only in our ears but also in our minds and hearts. Some families have even seen televised images of their loved ones who are serving in the armed forces in Kuwait and Iraq. Imagine how they must feel! And no one can or should forget the innocent people, the non-combatants, who face death and destruc-tion in the wake of this war.
Pope John Paul II and bishops around the world have spoken out compellingly against this conflict, most especially because it is a pre-emptive strike rather than a response to aggression. As such, it does not seem to fulfill the criteria for a “just war.” Furthermore, the pope has done what religious leaders are supposed to do: to be a prophetic voice for peace and to remind the nations of the world that war, which inflicts deep suffering and often breeds even more cultural and religious hatred, can only be the uttermost last resort.
In saying this, however, the Holy Father and other principled critics of the war are keenly aware that the regime of Saddam Hussein poses a great threat to peace and stability in the world and that this dictator has little or no regard for human life, human rights, and human dignity. And now that the battle has been joined, there is no real chance that the Allies will suddenly pull out of Iraq. Moreover, the President and others responsible for the war have warned us that this conflict is not likely to be short and that it will extract a very high price in human life.
Each of us must reach our own prudential judgment about the morality of the armed struggle in Iraq. It isn’t surprising if we experience conflicting feelings about the war and find ourselves drawn into discussions and debates over the complex dilemmas that it poses. The one thing we cannot do is to ignore the war, to pretend that it isn’t affecting our lives.
With that in mind, I would like to share once again with you how the Catholic Church in Fairfield County, the Diocese of Bridgeport, is responding to the pastoral situation that has been created by the war:
- First, I have requested that each Catholic take at least one practical step to promote peace in the world. I respectfully ask that each of us pray the Rosary for peace, and to do so no less than once a week. During this “Year of the Rosary,” we should beg the intercession of Mary, the Mother of God and the Queen of Peace, in asking the Lord for a speedy end to the war, for the protection of all non-combatants now in harm’s way, and for the safe return of the men and women of the armed services. Above all, we should pray earnestly for a just and lasting peace in a troubled region of the world and for an end to terrorism.
- Second, I want to echo what many parents have told me about how deeply the images of war, whether on television or online, affect their children. We may not realize how frightened and disturbed children are by those images. One mother told me that her little daughter had nightmares, imagining that bombs would soon be dropping on her house. Furthermore, we adults should not underestimate the effect of our continually watching the war on television. I am not suggesting, of course, that we ignore the war or be uninformed about it. I am suggesting that it is only prudent to find appropriate ways to speak to our children about the war and that we sensibly limit the amount of time we spend watching it our-selves. For help in talking to your children about the war, may I suggest that you visit the website of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops: www.usccb.org/sdwp/peace.
- Third, through Catholic Family Services (Catholic Charities), which is located throughout Fairfield County, crisis counseling services are now available to anyone who needs it. Brochures describing those services were delivered to all 87 parishes last weekend and are readily avail-able. You can also find that same information on the Catholic Charities website: www.ccfc-ct.org. In addition, priests and other qualified parish staff will extend themselves to any of you who simply want to discuss your feelings about the war. I especially extend this invitation to families who have loved ones in the services.
- Fourth, I have requested that all 87 parishes remain open longer than usual; that prayer services and novenas for peace be scheduled; and that opportunities for the Sacrament of Reconciliation or Penance be expanded. Many pastors and parishes have organized other initiatives as well. It is a time when, as one family of faith, we need to be together and to pray together, begging for forgiveness and for the protection of all God’s people.
Often we sing, “Let there be peace on earth, and let it begin with me…” or, rather, let it begin with the Christ who lives in me! How important that each of us be peacemakers in families, in the workplace, among friends and acquaintances, and in society at large. We can contribute to peace by opening our hearts to Christ’s love, by respecting human life, by forgiving our enemies and resolving old grudges, and by a spirit of generous and willing service to those in need. As our Lenten journey leads to Easter, may the Lord grant us the peace for which we long: peace in our world, in our Church, in our families, in the depth of our hearts!
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