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Ring out the thousand wars of old,” the verse goes. “Ring in the thousand years of peace.”

Is there a more insistent or deeply felt yearning among humans than the desire for peace? We speak of it constantly, we wish it, we beg for it, pray for it. And yet.

As we turn the corner on a new year, it appears inevitable that the thousand wars of old will only multiply.

On my way into work one recent morning, I was behind a car with the bumper sticker, “If you want peace, prepare for war.”

One might understand the raw instinct behind the line, which can be traced, at least in one derivative form, to a James Russell Lowell poem. The ones with the biggest guns, the thinking used to go, could enforce the peace and generally have their way. We know now that’s not necessarily so, which leaves the world in an even more precarious state and with a particularly nagging new question: How to prepare for war in an age of global terrorism?

Is it completely out of the question to suggest a different argument? How about: If you want peace, prepare for peace?

It is not in our bones to think that way. Colman McCarthy, a writer whose work frequently appears in these pages and who, for decades, has been devoted to researching and teaching peacemaking, has a flip answer for those who say nonviolence doesn’t get results in the real world. “You give me $90 million a day,” he says, “and I’ll get you results.”

It’s flip, but not any more than prepare for war if you want peace. How would a 21st century culture prepare for peace? What would be the work involved? Where would one spend the money? Into what would a culture place its resources and best minds? Right now, as far as the public treasury goes, war making has everything trumped.

As Pat Morrison’s story on Page 3 shows, the situation in Israel and the Palestinian Territories continues to deteriorate. As NCR went to press, we learned from several parish leaders, seminary staff and religious in the Holy Land that the Israeli government’s foot-dragging in issuing or renewing visas for Catholic church workers is effectively paralyzing movement in and out of the country and consequently the church’s pastoral work.

In a statement released earlier in December, Patriarch Michel Sabbah, the leader of Latin Catholics in Jerusalem, said the Catholic church there has been subjected to harassment by the Israeli government in recent months, particularly through inaction on visas and residency permits for seminarians and church workers.

Church leaders reported that as many as 70 priests and religious were waiting for visas. Sabbah said, “Numerous procedures have been undertaken over the past months by the seminary itself, by the official organs of the patriarchate and by the Apostolic Delegation of Jerusalem [the pope’s representative]. Until the present time, no satisfactory response has been given.”

While most of the attention recently has been given to overt acts of violence, the latest tactics by the Israeli government, in the words of one priest, is “a systematic way of making life for Christians and non-Israelis more difficult. And the fact that the church works with the Palestinian people is part of it, too.”

-- Tom Roberts

My e-mail address is troberts@natcath.org

National Catholic Reporter, January 10, 2003