Christopher Howse examines the Pope's thinking on war and peace
IT IS not at all certain that Pope John Paul would make a good diplomat — he doesn't seem very clever at hedging.
When he spoke at Southwark in a hurriedly composed addition to the planned text, calling for peace in the South Atlantic, it was to pray "that negotiations may pave the way to a just and lasting peace." So, that let Mrs Thatcher off — she said she was seeking justice first.
It was reminiscent of the speech at Drogheda when the Provos quoted the passage on justice and the British Government quoted the condemnation of violence.
But at Coventry the Pope made one unguarded comment after another, and even chose a quotation from Shakespeare to insert to ram the point home: That in the course of justice none of us should see salvation.
We do pray for mercy. And that same prayer doth teach all of us to render the deeds of mercy.
Portia's speech put the question in the context of man's relationship with God — a very uneven partnership. It is the theme
of the Pope's second encyclical, Dives in AliFericardia, not to mention the Cour Father. Christians ought to realise that God's gift of peace can only be theirs if they, like God, give up their claim to the poundof flesh that is theirs by right.
On arrival at Gatwick, the Pope announced that he was coming as a pilgrim of peace. "In a world scarred by hatred and injustice and divided by violence and oppression, the Church desires to be a spokesman for the vital task of fostering harmony and unity and of forging new bonds of understanding and brotherhood," he said.
The Vatican has just set up a new cornmission for the study of different cultures and the gap between cultures was one of the sources of conflict that the Pope mentioned. He also referred to divisions of social condition (class, they would call it in his native country) and beliefs, even among Christians. Unity was to be seen as one side of the struggle for peace.
But above all, thePope looked to a supernatural force to bring peace. He invoked the power of the risen Christ, whose greeting ot the Apostles was "Peace be with you." At the Murrayfield youth rally he quoted St Paul's list of the fruits of the Holy Spirit, which include peace. It was a Pentecost visit, and if the Pope's insistence that peace was not only desirable but possible seemed unconvincing to observers versed in the ways of the world, the Pope was reckoning with the imponderable influence of the Spirit.
Pope John Paul was under no illusions about the horrors of war that he was hoping to turn aside. He had lived in wartime Poland. He has spoken in his encyclicals of the dread of nuclear war and has taken every opportunity. memorably in Nagasaki, to conjure up an apocalyptic vision of the consequences of atomic warfare.
Only faith in God, he seemed to suggest to the young people of Soctland, can preserve men from despair in the face of war. "Do not let the sight of the world in turmoil shake your confidence in Jesus. Not even the threat of nuclear war. Remember his words: 'Be brave: I have conquered the world.' Let no temptation discourage you. Let no failure hold you down. There is nothing that you cannot master with the help of the One who gives you strength."
On Pentecost Sunday the Pope condemned war in terms so unequivocal that they will be heard to forget: "Today the scale and the horror of modern warfare — whether nuclear or not — makes it totally unacceptable as a means of settling differences between nations. War should belong to the tragic past, to history; it should find no place on humanity's agenda for the future."
Immediately preceding these words was a sentence which gave a clue to why Christians cannot accept war. The Pope's thinking entirely bypasses the theory of just war. "Wherever the strong exploit the weak; wherever the rich take advantage of the poor; wherever great powers seek to dominate and to impose ideologies, there the work of making peace is undone."
On the plane home after the visit the Pope was asked about the just war theory. He said: "It cannot be denied, the right to self-defence. But it is necessary to look for other solutions. Today it is necessary to exclude any war."
The Pope was repeating again his commitment to human rights. 1-or him, human rights are not a matter of social contract or political convention. He derives them from the incarnation of Christ, the topic of the manifesto for his pontificate. Redemptor Hominis.
At the same time, the Pope does come down to practical suggestions of how to proceed towards world peace: "Let us pray earnestly for the special session of the United Nations on disarmament which begins soon. The voices of Christians join with others in urging the leaders of the world to abandon confrontation and to turn their backs on policies which require the nations to spend vast sums of money for weapons of mass destruction. We pray this Pentecost that the Holy Spirit may inspire the leaders of the world to engage in fruitful dialogue. May the Holy Spirit lead them to adopt peaceful ways of safeguarding liberty which do not involve the threat of nuclear disaster."
In his speech to his fellow bishops, Pope John Paul referred to the support in prayers for peace of the bishops of Argentina and the world. It was a matter of collegiality, he said. The bishops were part of the Body of Christ, the Communion of Saints. That was the message of the Mass for peace in St Peter's which the Pope said with the British and Argentine cardinals.
The Pope has not attempted, nor will he, to enter what he sees as the political arena. When he met President Reagan on Tuesday, he reminded him that the United Sates could be a force for peace in the world. But he did not say whether he thought it might be easier with someone else in the White House.
For the Pope, peace is primarily a persona' concern. When he developed the image of Coventry Cathedral as a symbol of the reconstruction of peace he said: "Yet the cathedral of peace is built of many small stones. Each person has to become a stone in that beautiful edifice. All people must deliberately and resolutely commit themselves to the pursuit of peace. Mistrust and division between nations begin in the heart of individuals. Work for peace starts when we listen to the urgent call of Christ: 'Repent and believe in the Gospel'."
At Southwark he said that war meant bereavement and suffering. War and peace are about people. The Pope's whole thinking is man-centred. But the man he puts his faith in is Christ. If now, war only makes sense through a sharing in Christ's Cross, in the future he believes. we shall share in the pace of his Resurrection.