I remember his October 1965 trip to the United States so clearly, as though it were yesterday. As Catholic school children, we felt so proud to watch Pope St. Paul VI arrive in New York – the first pope to visit America. All of our classrooms were suddenly furnished with television sets to view this momentous occasion. Only much later in my life would I appreciate the purpose of this trip and the Pope’s message as he addressed the United Nations:
These are the words you are looking for us to say and the words we cannot utter without feeling aware of their seriousness and solemnity: never again one against the other, never, never again! … never again war! Never again war! It is peace, peace that has to guide the destiny of the nations of all mankind (Pope Paul VI, “Address to the United Nations,” October 4, 1965).
I recalled his impassioned words once again almost 60 years later as we heard the news on Saturday morning, Oct. 7, of the surprise and unprovoked attack on Israel by the Palestinian terrorist group Hamas. “Citizens of Israel, we are at war,” Israel’s Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu solemnly proclaimed in response. The sudden, staggering, indiscriminate loss of hundreds and hundreds of lives, the abductions and torture of Israeli military personnel and ordinary citizens as well as the ongoing threat to countless others in what promises to be another long and brutal conflict simply defy any reasonable, justifiable explanation.
Why can’t this region of the world ever experience enduring peace? Why is the assault and killing of people, our sisters and brothers, always the solution presented to deal with problems encountered there? Have we learned nothing from history?
The prophetic insights of Pope St. Paul VI at the United Nations keep coming to mind:
As you know very well, peace is not built merely by means of politics and a balance of power and interests. It is built with the mind, with ideas, with the works of peace. … Will the world ever come to change the selfish and bellicose outlook that has spun out such a great part of its history up to now? … If you want to be brothers, let the arms fall from your hands. A person cannot love with offensive weapons in his hands. Arms, and especially the terrible arms that modern science has provided you, engender bad dreams, feed evil sentiments, create nightmares, hostilities, and dark resolutions even before they cause any victims and ruins. They call for enormous expenses. They interrupt projects of solidarity and of useful labor. They warp the outlook of nations. So long as man remains the weak, changeable, and even wicked being that he so often shows himself to be, defensive arms will, alas, be necessary.
There is no question, Saturday’s attack was prompted by pure evil in motivation, intention and consequence. Human life has no value to the terrorist! On Sunday morning, Oct. 8, Pope Francis sadly lamented to the people gathered in St. Peter’s Square:
I am following with apprehension and pain what is happening in Israel, where violence has exploded even more ferociously, causing hundreds of deaths and injuries. I express my closeness to the families of the victims. I pray for them and for all those who are experiencing hours of terror and of anguish.
Please stop the attacks and weapons and understand that terrorism and war do not lead to any solution, but only to the death and suffering of many innocent people. War is a defeat; every war is always a defeat.
This unprovoked terrorist attack on Israel occurred on Oct. 7, the feast of Our Lady of the Rosary, during the month dedicated to her patronage through this prayer. As the conflict unfolds in the Middle East, let us pray the Rosary for peace, daily asking Our Blessed Mother to intercede with her Divine Son, the Prince of Peace, for an end to the inhumanities experienced by our sisters and brothers there: that lives might be spared; that the families of the dead might be comforted; that those abducted might be protected and promptly returned to their loved ones; that the destruction of homes and properties might be minimized, that the desire for lasting peace might find its way into the hearts of people who planned and created this war as well as those brutally affected by it.
May the words of Pope St. Paul VI soon come to pass there and throughout all the areas of crisis and conflict in our increasingly fragile world: “Let the arms fall from your hands … Never again war. Never again!”
Our Lady of the Rosary, pray for us!