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Last issue, publisher Tom Fox made a plea on the back page for the pope, who has so strongly opposed the looming war with Iraq, to travel to that country. The reasoning was that the mere announcement of a papal trip to Baghdad would trip up U.S. war efforts and perhaps buy some needed time for further inspections and international diplomacy.

That plea now seems to be part of a chorus made up of disparate voices from around the landscape, and the chorus appears to be growing via the Internet.

One effort is being led by Helen Caldicott, long-time activist opposed to nuclear weapons and international violence, who also identifies herself as a pediatrician, a mother and a grandmother.

“The pope’s physical presence in Iraq will act as the ultimate human shield, during which time leaders of the world’s nations can commit themselves to identifying and implementing a peaceful solution to this war that the world’s majority clearly does not support,” she writes in a cover letter.

The suggested letter to the pope implores John Paul II “to travel to Baghdad and to remain there until a peaceful solution to this crisis has been implemented.”

It states that the pope is “the only person on Earth who can stop this war.”

The letter can be found on a number of Web sites, all of which have long and involved addresses. If you want to see the text, try typing “pope” and “Caldicott” into your favorite search engine and it should pop up.

So far, of course, the papal involvement in international diplomacy -- in addition to receiving a string of distinguished and interested parties -- has been to send representatives to Baghdad and to the United States. NCR’s Joe Feuerherd was on the scene last week when a former papal nuncio to the United States, Cardinal Pio Laghi, a Bush family friend, visited the president bearing a letter from the pope.

Little is known at press time about whether the visit had any effect on the war effort. Perhaps it is enough to know that the troop buildup continues, the bombing raids over Iraq’s no-fly zones were increased, and the administration seems to be unmoved in its determination to go to war despite the united opposition of France, Germany and Russia.

Dealing with this institution is like trying to make a balloon smaller by squeezing it.” That’s the line of the month that crossed my desk. Came to me from a priest friend who had just had some dealings with ecclesiastical authorities.

The church is an institution besieged. The revelations seem to be endless. And though some still believe that the scandal is well confined in terms of numbers and time span, each week seems to hold a contradiction of that conviction. Last week it was more documents released in Manchester, N.H., and though I have not read through the documents, the reports based on them are demoralizing. Against that backdrop, a kind of constant dull headache in the body Catholic, comes some reason for hope. Margot Patterson reports that the Catholics in Palm Beach, Fla. (see story Page 5), which may not have suffered from the same degree of sex abuse by priests as other dioceses but lost two bishops to the scandal, have a certain resiliency that is as good a model as any for withstanding the storm.

Finally, I offer a picture from Anywhere USA. This happened to be in Kansas City, Mo., where Managing Editor Pat Morrison joined a group of Christians, Jews, Sikhs, Muslims, Buddhists, Hindus and others in a Community Praying for Peace program at the Al Inshirah Mosque. About 125 people in all. It is what people of faith should do more often, pray quietly for peace. This was one of their prayers:

“Let us pray for the Americans and other nationals who died on 9/11; for the innocent victims in Afghanistan; the Palestinians and Israelis who have died in the Middle East conflict; the victims of internal war in Africa; the dying children in Iraq; the Hindus and Muslims who have died in India’s recent conflict and in Kashmir; for the Christians in conflict in Ireland and elsewhere; and for the victimized Tibetans. Let us pray for all who suffer from injustice and oppression, that revenge will give way to compassion, that fear and hatred will be replaced by friendship and peace.”

-- Tom Roberts

My e-mail address is troberts@natcath.org

National Catholic Reporter, March 14, 2003