“Our objective is clear: we will degrade, and ultimately destroy ISIL through a comprehensive and sustained counter-terrorism strategy”: these were the words of President Obama in his recent televised address regarding our nation’s response to this new terrorist menace in the Middle East. About this same time his Vice President, Joseph Biden, was using even stronger words: “They should know we will follow them to the gates of hell until they are brought to justice.”
There is no question that a group such as this merits a firm and even a forceful response from our nation’s leaders. As even Pope Francis has said actions to protect the innocent, even those that make use of arms may be called for. The world cannot sit idly by while the innocent are brutally tortured, raped and slain in the thousands.
While most of us could agree there are times when the use of force is called for, at this juncture in our history we would do well to ask some difficult questions about the resort to weapons to resolve the seemingly endless cycles of violence in our world. Violence, even when it is used in a just defense of the innocent, never provides an ultimate solution to violence. Most will agree that World War I had its seeds in a previous war. World War II had its seeds in World War I. The Israeli-Palestinian conflict can be traced back to Biblical times and shows no sign of ending. Many such sad examples could be given.
War and other kinds of violence against our fellow human beings can for a moment bring the seething acquiescence of defeat but few students of history would call that true peace. That is why Pope Francis recently issued this heartfelt cry: “…violence is not answered with violence; death is not answered with the language of death. In the silence of the Cross, the uproar of weapons ceases and the language of reconciliation, forgiveness, dialogue, and peace is spoken. This evening, I ask the Lord that we Christians, and our brothers and sisters of other religions, and every man and woman of good will, cry out forcefully: violence and war are never the way to peace! (Pope Francis, Sunday, September 7, 2014, Angelus appeal for peace)
I would like to suggest to you what I believe is the one thing that can end the seemingly endless cycle of violence in our world, the one path to lasting peace: a profound and sincere reconciliation. At our Foundation Banquet on September 18th we heard a strong voice reassuring us that this is possible. Immaculée Ilabagiza is a survivor of the Rwandan Genocide that took place in 1994. She endured 91 days hidden in a 3 x 4 foot bathroom with 7 other women. As a 22 year old witness to the horror of a systematic bloodthirsty massacre of 1 million men, women and children including her parents, grandparents and all but one of her siblings, Immaculée felt the common human desire for vengeance. But praying the Rosary, and particularly the Our Father over time taught her that there had to be another way. She knew that she could not pray, “Forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us” sincerely without forgiving the very ones who had slain her family.
Yes! There has to be another way, but the truth is that the way of peace is beyond our frail human abilities. Only Jesus, the Prince of Peace, can break these seemingly endless cycles of violence. Only he can show us the way to forgiveness and reconciliation. Only the one who gave his life for love of us even as we were doing violence to him can show us the way to true and lasting peace!
Bp. Mark J. Seitz