APPEAL TO STATESMEN 't\1/4
By OUR DIPLOMATIC CORRESPONDENT
VATICAN diplomats and representatives around the world will spend Christmas actively trying to promote "Peace on Earth" — by attempting to bring about peace negotiations in Vietnam. This increased pressure follows Pope Paul's appeal on Sunday for the "responsible Chiefs of State" to accept the reported North Vietnamese proposal for a Christmas ceasefire.
The Pope is, however, hoping to use his position as a stable moral force to persuade the nations concerned in accepting such a truce to continue it until peace negotiations can start.
In a period of claim and counter-claim, alleged peacefeelers and alleged rejections, the Vatican see its role as encouraging even the least-likely avenues to be explored.
That the Pope felt he could not "stay silent" on the topic of world peace—an expression he used during Sunday's appearance—is seen as a further indication that he feels compelled to press every advantage.
His deepening concern is in part hampered by the fact that the Vatican has no formalities with the three major participants: North Vietnam, the United States and China. The accent, therefore, is on informal approaches.
And it is in the corridors of the United Nations—where Pope Paul in October greeted so many UN respresentatives —that Pope Paul's willingness to assist, and anxiety to make his feelings known, can best be conveyed. Here the delegates of all nations can be appreached and asked to inform their Governments that the Pope will use whatever power he has for peace.
The Pope's message followed a broadcast by the National Liberation Front, the political arm of the Vietcong. This said that guerrilla forces in South Vietnam would observe a 12hour Christmas truce to allow attendance at religious services.
The "Liberation Rado" broadcast said the Vietcong "will stop attacks throughout South Vietnam from 6 p.m. on Christmas Eve to 6 a.m. on Christmas Day . . . in view of the religious beliefs of our Catholic compatriots, including soldiers in the armed forces of the Southern 'puppet' government".
On Sunday, before he gave them his customary blessing, Pope Paul told the crowd in St. Peter's Square that with Christmas drawing near he could not stay silent on the issue of world peace. In urging acceptance of the North Vietnamese offer to call a cease-fire during Christmas, he said: "We recommend this to the wisdom and compassion of the responsible Chiefs of State and we hope that negotiations will follow the cease-fire, and that concord, equilibrium and pace may follow.
"Our soul is full of sadness," Pope Paul said, "for so many divisions, struggles and antaganisms which trouble all humanity in many places, especially in Vietnam." The war there, he added, was graver and bloodier. The number of militants, the number of victims and the number of refugees were growing, and with them grew the danger of a bigger war.
"Where is Peace? Where is the Christmas spirit?" the Pope asked.
Why should any nation heed the Pope's appeal? In addition to his position as the leader of 500 million Catholics, Pope Paul has the reputation of his own office and as a man of peace.
In his first encyclical, in August, 1964, the Pope pledged himself to the service of world peace. He declared himself ready to act as a mediator between contending parties "where an opportunity presents itself".
Bearing on this is the fact that the Vatican is one of the world's foremost listening posts, and is well aware of the tide of international politics. Parenthetically the Vatican's ability to garner information is often given as the reason which prompted the British Government to establish diplomatic relations—so that it could better take the pulse of the colonies.
Not too unrealistic then are the possibilities suggested in a recent article in the widely circulated English language magazine Far Eastern Economic Review, of Hong Kong.
This journal has reported that the reason behind the Pope's visit to the United Nations in October was to forestall any possibility of a United States air attack on China's atomic installations.