I’ve come to the conclusion that it’s OK to be conflicted about the situation in the Middle East. I know I am. For in reality it is a very complicated, confusing and complex region.
Take the situation in Israel for example. On the one hand there is Hamas, a terrorist organization draped in the clothes of respectability due to their status as a government, firing rockets into the nation of Israel, a long-time ally of the United States, which does have the right to defend itself and its people. On the other hand there is Israel launching precise missile strikes in the midst of a civilian/non-combatant population in an attempt to stop the same Hamas. Israel justifies this action by saying that they warn civilians by dropping pamphlets alerting them of the attack.
While I don’t often agree with Jon Stewart, noted comedian and political satirist, I do believe that he has it right when he questioned “the effectiveness and humanity of Israel’s policies” on the Monday, July 21, 2014 edition of the Daily Show. And while Stewart’s reference may be dated, it only proves the point that this conflict between Palestine and Israel which is currently under a tenuous cease fire is far from over.
To make matters worse, militants from the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (known as ISIS) have mounted an offensive against the Kurdish people in Northern Iraq, a region that has an increasing Christian population that has caused the United States to respond with airstrikes upon ISIS forces using warplanes and unmanned drones. Iraq has been a source of division and debate in our nation. While the United States has an obligation and a long standing history of aiding and protecting other countries in need, the American presence in the war in Iraq has had a high cost in lives for both the American and the Iraqi people. An added presence in a conflict once thought over, only fuels such fears of a long and protracted conflict with additional loss of human life.
The inherent problem is that, unlike books, movies and TV, there are no “good guys vs. bad guys”. While people and nations operate from an air of moral superiority, all war (even those conflicts seen as just) is an offense against the dignity of human life. And it is not just an issue that involves Jews and Muslims or Muslims against other Muslims. It deals with people, souls, and it is our duty as Catholic Christians to not only support our Christian brothers and sisters in need but to be witnesses to the world of the Gospel of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ and of peace.
Pope Pius XII was faced with a similar situation during his pontificate. While it was right to fight against the atrocities of Nazi Germany during the Second World War, Pius XII understood that he was the shepherd of the whole world, not just of the Allies. And while he is criticized and accused of being “Hitler’s Pope”, Pius XII worked tirelessly for peace and walked a precarious line that preserved the Catholic Church’s ability to act and intervene in Christ’s name and to work for the protection of Jewish people wherever and whenever the Church could (for an unbiased account read Pierre Blet’s collection of papal correspondence in Pius XII and the Second World War).
Our current Holy Father has taken a similar tack. Pope Francis has spoken tirelessly for peace and has shown the world, by his example, his care for the poor and refuges, the needless victims of war. Pope Francis decried the human rights atrocities in Syria and asked the whole Church to pray for peace for a region that was on the verge of war.
This past Sunday, the Twentieth Sunday in Ordinary Time, was no exception as Pope Francis implored the Church to pray for peace in Iraq and for the plight of Christians there. Our Holy Father “tweets” about peace constantly, but these are far from just 140 characters on a screen. It is a symbol of the Gospel that Pope Francis lives out every single day — a Gospel in which all life is sacred, whether it be the life of one’s greatest ally or one’s greatest enemy.
In closing, St. Bernard of Clairvaux, whose feast day is this Wednesday, August 20th says this:
“Blessed,” he says, “are the peacemakers, for they shall be called the children of God” (Mt 5:9). Consider carefully that it is not the people who call for peace but those who make peace who are commended. For there are those who talk but do nothing (Mt 23:3). For just as it is not the hearers of the law but the doers who are righteous (Rom 2:13), so it is not those who preach peace but the authors of peace who are blessed.”
May we continue to pray and work for peace in our complicated world and to pray for our brothers and sisters afflicted by the ravages of war.