(Bishop O'Connell's reflections, published in The Monitor, the week of August 10th)
Planes shot down over Ukraine and hundreds of innocent, unsuspecting passengers minding their own business are killed. Bombs explode in Gaza killing thousands and displacing hundreds of thousands more as the never-ending conflict in the Middle East escalates. Air strikes in Iraq remind the world that the chaos there spanning the terms of four US presidents is far from over. Religious persecution driving people into the mountains where they starve to death. Syria continues to allow the slaughter of its own people in the name of civil war. Is the world going crazy? Has violence and the senseless loss of life in these parts of the world, civilian as well as military, become so routine that the rest of us have simply grown too numb or, worse, indifferent? Has humanity lost its moral compass?
With millions, I watch the television news reports as they flash "breaking news" on the screen day after day, so much so that they really cease to be "breaking news" but, rather, "more of the same." I think to myself and worry, does the future promise only more of the present? Presidents and prime ministers, military commanders and leader of various factions, religious and secular, have a lot to say, criticizing and debating one another and offering their own reasons for the conflicts that leave us reeling with uncertainty and disbelief. And the situation seems to be worsening each day. Is justifying violence and war more important, more compelling than working for peace? Where is the truth? What is actually happening in the world and why? Is any of this violence justifiable?
As Catholics, we join other Christians, Jews, Muslims as well as those with no particular religious beliefs, looking for answers, for some sign—any sign—that peace is possible? Where does all this inhumanity come from? And where is it leading us? Is there an end in sight?
Much of the religious world looks to Pope Francis for guidance and hope, even if they are not members of the Catholic Church. He is, for many, the conscience of the world.
For months, the Holy Father has used the unique pulpit that belongs to him alone to pray for peace, to beg for peace and to urge the whole world to do the same, convinced that "prayer has the ability to transform hearts and thus to transform history." These are not idle thoughts, some "throw-away line" in a religious man's repertoire. They are the deeply profound reflection of a heart that, like Christ's, is "moved with pity for the crowds (Mark 6:34)."
Speaking with visible emotion, Pope Francis appealed to world leaders and their allies in the war torn Middle East, "Stop. I ask you with all my heart. It's time to stop. Please stop. Let us remember that everything is lost in war, nothing is lost in peace."
This is not the first time in modern history that the world has witnessed such violent, widespread indiscriminate disregard for human life. And Francis is not the first Pope to seek its end. But no one in a position to make a difference seems ready or willing to listen or to budge in the direction of peace. Even though places like Syria or the Ukraine or Gaza or Israel or Iraq or even Rome are far from our shores, the heart wrenching cries of people and families and children just like our own who simply want to live their lives in peace reach our ears and disturb our consciences and move our hearts. What can we do? Pope Francis asks us all to pray unceasingly for peace, especially on August 17, and to share whatever we can with those left homeless and terrified in these war torn areas through organizations like Caritas International or Catholic Relief Services. Most importantly, however, we need to recognize and share and feel a common humanity with our sisters and brothers who wake every day wondering if today will be the last day of their lives and if their children will ever know peace. Prayer can and does change hearts and history.
Charity can and does make a difference in the lives of those who suffer the displacement that war and hatred bring. Both can, both must be pathways upon which we choose to walk as Catholics—although far from the conflicts—pathways to peace.
Wouldn't it be a most amazing answer to our prayers and generosity if we turned on our televisions or the Internet only to hear the real "breaking news" that war is no more? Please God, lead us to peace!