The Pope’s vision, his wisdom, for the Middle East, and for the Western democracies…
Watching Pope Benedict’s remarkable recent trip to Lebanon (September 14-16), many observers summarized it this way: “his presence was the message.”
And this was true. The Pope’s presence, the very fact that he made the trip, that he went to Lebanon, was a powerful sign of reason and of peace in a part of the world torn by passion and conflict. His visit brought peace, incarnated peace. His presence expressed of that message.
Amid rumors of looming war between Israel and Iran, despite a continuing civil war in nearby Syria, despite angry protests in many Islamic countries sparked at least in part by a crude American film mocking the prophet Mohammed (and, in Libya, the murder on September 11 of American Ambassador to Libya, Christopher Stevens, and three of his entourage) the Pope courageously went to Lebanon to preach peace, and to be a sign of peace.
On the plane from Rome to Lebanon, some 50 journalists were able to ask the Holy Father a few questions. One had to do with the exodus of Christians from the Middle East, which threatens to bring an end to 2,000 years of Christian presence in that part of the world.
“Holy Father, in Syria today, as in Iraq a while ago, many Christians have felt obliged, reluctantly, to leave their homeland,” Father Federico Lombardi, S.J., the Pope’s spokesman, said, reading a question which had been submitted to him. “What does the Catholic Church intend to do or say in order to help in this situation and to stem the flow of Christians from Syria and other Middle Eastern countries?”
Pope Benedict’s response was a clarion call for peace, not war, for dialogue, not violence. Here is what he said:
“First of all, I must say that it is not only Christians who are leaving, but also Muslims. Naturally, there is a great danger of Christians leaving these lands and their presence there being lost, and we must do all we can to help them to stay.
The essential way to help would be to put an end to war and violence which is causing this exodus. Therefore the first priority is to do all we can to halt the violence…
“What can we do against war? Of course we can always spread the message of peace, we can make it clear that violence never solves problems and we can build up the forces of peace.
“The work of journalists is important here, as they can help a great deal to show that violence destroys rather than builds, that it is of no use to anyone.
“Then Christian gestures may help, days of prayer for the Middle East, for Christians and Muslims, to demonstrate the possibilities for dialogue and for solutions.
“I also believe that there must be an end to the importation of arms: without which, war could not continue. Instead of importing weapons, which is a grave sin, we should import ideas of peace and creativity, we should find ways of accepting each person in his otherness, we should therefore make visible before the world the respect that religions have for one another, respect for man as God’s creation and love of neighbor as fundamental to all religions.
“In this way, using all possible means, including material assistance, we must help to bring an end to war and violence so that all can help rebuild the country.”
So Benedict’s vision for the Middle East, his message for the Middle East, his wisdom for the Middle East, expressed in his trip to Lebanon, is “to bring an end to war and violence” in order to enable all who live in the region to “rebuild.”
Benedict’s vision, his wisdom, for life in the Western democracies is also rooted in a commitment to peace, and in respect for the dignity of human life.
Speaking to Christian politicians in Rome on Saturday, September 22, the Pope stressed two essential points: (1) the need for morality in economic and financial activity, and (2) the need to respect the dignity of the family and all human life in civil legislation.
“The current economic situation is becoming increasingly serious, and its complexity and gravity rightly arouse concern,” Benedict said. “Civil and political activity must be given new incentives to seek solid ethical foundations, the lack of which in the economic field has helped to create the current global financial crisis.
“Unfortunately,” the Pope continued, “the cursory, superficial and short-term responses to the most fundamental and profound human needs are numerous and strident. This makes the words of the Apostle sadly appropriate for our own time, when he warned Timothy of the day in which ‘people will not put up with sound doctrine, but having itching ears, they will accumulate for themselves teachers to suit their own desires, and will turn away from listening to the truth and wander away to myths’ (2 Tim 4:3).”
The Pope also called for a defense of the traditional family and for protection for the unborn and the aging. And he said that these two causes were actually one single cause.
“The commitment to respecting life in all its phases from conception to natural death — and the consequent rejection of procured abortion, euthanasia and any form of eugenics — is, in fact, interwoven with respecting marriage as an indissoluble union between a man and a woman and, in its turn, as the foundation for the community of family life,” the Pope said. “The family constitutes the principal and most significant place for the education of the person, thanks to the parents who place themselves at the service of their children in order to draw out (‘e-ducere’) the best that is in them. Thus the family, the basic cell of society, is the root which nourishes not only the individual human being, but the very foundations of social coexistence. Blessed John Paul II was right, then, to include among human rights, ‘the right to live in a united family and in a moral environment conducive to the growth of the child’s personality’ (Centesimus annus, 47).
“The authentic progress of human society,” the Pope continued, “cannot forgo policies aimed at protecting and promoting marriage, and the community that derives therefrom. Adopting such policies is the duty not only of States but of the International Community as a whole.”
The Pope concluded his remarks to the politicians with a warning.
“The warning contained in the Book of Wisdom to the effect that ‘severe judgement falls on those in high places’ (Wisdom 6:5) is highly beneficial, a warning given not to frighten but to spur and encourage those in government, at all levels, to achieve all the good of which they are capable, in keeping with the mission the Lord entrusts to each one.”
In Jewish thought, wisdom descends from God’s spirit from on high and penetrates all things by reason of her purity and truth. It is the breath and the power of God and the source of all that is true. In rabbinic thought, light and wisdom are associated with both the Torah and the Messiah.
Christians believe that Jesus knew and lived the Torah, the Law, and that he is the Light of the World and the salvation of both the Jews, his own people, as Simeon declared spontaneously when Jesus was brought to him to be presented in the Temple, and of the nations, all mankind.
And this is the reason that Benedict has turned all his strength toward a trilogy of books about Jesus, two already published, and a third to be published at Christmastime. Because the wisdom that the Jews and Gentiles both seek, the wisdom that the Middle East and the Western democracies both need, the wisdom that makes it possible for human life to be led in accord with reason, in peace, and with liberty and justice, flows from the spirit of Jesus, and from his teaching, which Benedict is using all his strength to protect, to explain, and to hand on.