CATHOLIC NEWS OF THE WEEK . Saturday, 18 November 2017

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Of ambassadors, war, peace and politics

ROME (SE): Pope Francis has put together two seemingly disconnected issues in the past weeks.
 
He has agreed to accredit the least approved of any ambassador the United States of America (US) has ever offered to the Holy See and chosen the Sicily-Rome American War Memorial Cemetery near Rome, a memorial to some 7,861 US military service personnel who died during World War II, as the site for his Mass for the Faithful Departed on All Souls Day.
 
The nomination in May of Callista Gingrich by Donald Trump, proved to be the most unpopular ever.
 
In seeking approval from the Senate, she could only muster 70 of the 100 votes, leaving her with an approval rating far lower than even the first ambassador nominated by Ronald Reagan in 1984 when formal relations were first tied between the two states, William Wilson, who garnered 87.
 
The other eight ambassadors the US has sent to the Vatican have all been approved unanimously.
 
While the pope has agreed to accredit the former cathedral choirgirl and congressional staff member, a report posted on UCAN proposes that it is because he wants to engage Trump and not isolate him from the Vatican or the Church and, even though he had good reason to refuse the nomination, as it did not wash so well with the US Senate, he has taken her on.
 
However, in a reversal of the old saying, her greatest asset is probably her husband, Newt Gingrich, a former president of the Senate and well-known scallywag around Washington, who gets on well with Trump.
 
No doubt the charm of the former choirgirl will serve as a diplomatic foil to the more scurrilous politicking of her husband, who may well have been Trump’s preferred choice, but is probably too well known in Washington to get through a Senate scrutiny.
 
However, accepting Gingrich is not the only thing the pope is doing to engage the US president.
 
Politically, the Mass at the cemetery paid off, with the US embassy in Rome welcoming the gesture warmly and the Stars and Stripes hailing it as the first visit of a pope to an American war cemetery overseas.
 
It quoted a foreign cemeteries official, David Americo, as saying, “This parallels the agency’s mission to remember those who made the ultimate sacrifice.”
 
But Pope Francis had another message in mind.
 
At his November 2 Mass celebrated among the white monuments to thousands of American soldiers, he made an impassioned plea for an end to all war, saying that the thousands of white headstones remembering the many young people who died in World War II should stand as a call for peace, an end to war and useless massacres.
 
In addressing the 13,000 or so people who had gathered for the Mass, he described war as a self-destructive act that squelches the embers of hope in so many thousands of young lives.
 
“All of us, today,” he said in his unscripted reflection, “we are gathered here in hope. Each one of us in his own heart can repeat Job’s words, which we heard in the first reading, ‘I know that my redeemer lives and at last he will stand upon the earth’.”
 
On a day when the Church tells us that it is a holy and a wholesome thought to pray for the dead, Pope Francis laid flowers at the simple white crosses marking the memorials of some who had fallen, as well as those honouring some 3,095 who remain missing in action.
 
But the pope said that as we pray for those who have fallen, we must say no more to all war, especially at this time when the world is already at war and preparing to intensify its aggression in more and more dangerous ways.
 
He asked, “How often in history, when men think of making war, they are convinced of bringing a new world, they are convinced that they are making a spring. It ends in winter, ugly, cruel, a reign of terror, of death.”
 
He quoted the reflection of the woman looking at the ruins of Hiroshima in 1945 as saying, “Men do everything to declare and make war and, in the end, they destroy themselves.”
 
Pope Francis then reflected that she, along with many others, would have had sons, a husband or loved ones who perished in the war and while they may have been hailed as the heroes of the homeland, she is only left with the tears that humanity must not forget.
 
His closing words, “And may the Lord give us the grace to weep.”
 
As he was leaving the cemetery, Pope Francis wrote in the visitors’ book, “This is the fruit of war; hate, death, vendetta. Forgive us Lord.”

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