Should John Paul II Go to Baghdad?
Though it's hard to tell if a visit by the pope to Iraq would stop the war, it would express the best Christian ideals.
In late February, Pax Christi USA, the national Catholic peace and justice movement, had an audience with Pope John Paul II concerning the Bush Administration's policy toward Iraq. At that audience, Rev. Joe Nangle presented the Holy Father with a letter urging him to come to New York City and address the members of the U.N. Security Council. Our deep hope was that the pope would reiterate to the Security Council what he has consistently said from the beginning: that a war against Iraq would be immoral and unjustified. Pax Christi USA believed that such an action by the pope would be a powerful statement to the world and that his moral authority might be able to turn the tide away from a possible war.
The context has shifted drastically since late February. President Bush is poised to unleash a massacre on the Iraqi people. He has dismissed the moral, ethical, and spiritual authority of the world's religious leaders, the vast majority of whom have stated their unequivocal opposition to this war and to a doctrine that espouses preventative war. He has even refused to listen to the leaders of his own denomination, ignoring requests from United Methodist bishops to meet with him and hear their counsel on this war.
Following the president's speech on Monday, people the world over began searching for ways to raise one last cry before the slaughter of innocent Iraqis commenced, hoping against hope that there might be some action or statement that could halt this war. One provocative and powerful action that is currently gaining support among many people of faith is the possibility of Pope John Paul II making a trip to Iraq.
So far, President Bush has shown himself to be immune to appeals that are shaped by religious, moral, and ethical concerns. A trip to Baghdad by the leader of the world's largest Christian community would put the President of the United States in a position where ignoring him would likely be a grave political mistake. If President Bush were to go forward with a bombing campaign in Iraq with Pope John Paul II present in that country, it would serve to highlight the complete disregard the president has practiced toward those who question his justification of war. Furthermore, he would risk alienating millions of Catholics-in the U.S. and abroad-and other people of faith who see the pope as a holy figure. Ignoring the pope and other religious leaders has been a rather simple matter for the president so far; but should the Pope put himself in harm's way, it would be exponentially more difficult for President Bush to disregard him and dismiss the counsel of the leaders of the world's religious traditions.