Tom Cornell is at Peter Maurin Farm and a Deacon of the Archdiocese of New York
In his last two Sunday Angelus messages, Pope Francis condemned the use of chemical weapons in Syria and called for a peaceful resolution to the conflict that is tearing that country apart. That riled Mark Phillips of CBS News. He criticized the Holy Father for “siding with (Russian President) Putin.” Then The New York Times censored Pope Francis. The so-called “journal of record” ran an article on Syria in the morning edition that, among other things, quoted the Holy Father’s words on violence. The later edition deleted those words and any reference to the Pope. Are the mass media are joining the rush to war just as they did in the run-up to Iraq?
Last week, Pope Francis called for a special day of prayer and fasting for peace in Syria and to forestall any attack on that country. The Pope urged all Christians, all believers and all men and women of goodwill to join him in a day of fasting and prayer for peace. The Patriarch of Constantinople, Bartholomew, leader of the Orthodox Church, asked all Orthodox Christians to join Pope Francis and Catholics the world over in prayer and fasting to hold back the hand of violence. It is rare that clergy, consecrated sisters and brother and lay people as well are called to join in prayer and fasting for peace, and even more rare that the Orthodox faithful should join with the Pope in the same. But there you have it. When Pope Bergoglio chose his name, Francis, he had a purpose in mind.
That day of prayer and fasting was yesterday. Pope Francis led a Prayer Vigil for Peace in St. Peter’s Square with 100,000 people in attendance, streamed live by Vatican TV, from 6:50 p.m. until midnight Rome time, over five hours. Francis spent most of the vigil in silent prayer, but during his address he issued a heartfelt plea for peace, denouncing those who are “captivated by the idols of dominion and power” to destroy God’s creation through war. “This evening, I ask the Lord that we Christians, and our brothers and sisters of other religions and every man and woman of good will, cry out forcefully: Violence and war are never the way to peace. May the noise of weapons cease!” he said. “War is always a defeat for humanity.”
Three days ago, our Cardinal Archbishop Timothy Dolan, as president of the U.S. bishops’ conference, and Bishop Richard E. Pates of Des Moines, Iowa, chair of its Committee on International Justice and Peace, wrote to every member of the U.S. Congress to say that a military attack “will be counterproductive, will exacerbate an already deadly situation, and will have unintended negative consequences.”
President Obama has decried the use of chemical weapons in Syria, as well he should. “Their use should not go unpunished,” he asserts. Has he or this country the legal or moral authority to punish those who employ chemical weapons? Does he include the use of Agent Orange by the U.S. in Viet Nam? That’s a chemical weapon! During the Viet Nam War, the U.S. military dropped tons of chemical weapons, including Agent Orange, on the forests and farmlands of Indo-China, destroying food supplies, and ravaging the lives of hundreds of thousands of innocent people. An estimated 400,000 people were killed or maimed, half a million babies born with birth defects, and the cancer rate has soared. The Red Cross estimated that one million people in Viet Nam have serious health problems related to Agent Orange. And American soldiers suffered as well, by “blow-back,” as it is called. One of my best friends was hospitalized last month because his father, a U.S. soldier in Viet Nam, ingested Agent Orange and passed the effects on to his son at conception, auto-immune deficiency!
Or white phosphorous? That’s a chemical weapon! White phosphorous burns through and flesh and bone it touches with inextinguishable fire until all flesh and bone is destroyed. The U.S. used white phosphorous in Fallujah, Iraq! Will that be punished? Iraq attacked Iran with poison gas during the 1980s war. But Saddam Hussein was our ally then. Was that punished? The Monroe Doctrine established the Western Hemisphere as a U.S. zone of influence. The Bush-Obama Doctrine established the globe as a U.S. zone of influence, or so it would seem. If any nations might justly lay claim to a sphere of influence in West Asia they are Russia and Iran.
The U.S. President does not have the legal, much less the moral authority to attack Syria, though he claims otherwise. Our Church teaches that recourse to war is justifiable only in the event of a direct military attack, declared and carried out by competent authority, observing civilian immunity and only as a last resort after all alternatives have been tried and failed. A military attack upon Syria would violate every principle of just war theory. A military strike on Syria would be an act of war, unjust war. Killing in unjust war is murder. Failure to speak out when you know an act of war in unjust is to be an accomplice to murder.
Now let us join the Holy Father and our American bishops in a prayer the bishops have offered for this crisis:
Almighty eternal God, source of all compassion, the promise of your mercy and saving help fills our hearts with hope. Hear the cries of the people of Syria; bring healing to those suffering from the violence and comfort to those mourning the dead. Empower and encourage Syria’s neighbors in their care and welcome for refugees. Convert the hearts of those who have taken up arms and strengthen the resolve of those committed to peace.
Oh God of hope and Father of mercy, your Holy Spirit inspires us to look beyond ourselves and our own needs. Inspire leaders to choose peace over violence and to seek reconciliation with enemies. Inspire the Church around the world with compassion for the people of Syria, and fill us with hope for a future of peace built on justice for all. We ask this through Jesus Christ, Prince of Peace and Light of the World, who lives and reigns for ever and ever. Amen.
Now let me hear AMEN!