Cardinal committed to peacemaking
By JOHN DEAR
Last year, I led a delegation of Nobel Peace laureates to Iraq to see the effects of economic sanctions. There we saw with our own eyes what UNICEF and the World Health Organization have been saying all along: Since 1990, over 1 million Iraqis have died from these economic sanctions, half of them children under 5.
At the Fellowship of Reconciliation, we are convinced that this tragedy is not just a humanitarian crisis but the greatest moral and spiritual disaster of our time. The sanctions not only do not work -- they are killing thousands of innocent children each month. Are the children of Iraq our enemies? No. The economic sanctions must be lifted.
After I returned, New York Cardinal John OConnors office called and invited me to meet with him to discuss my experience in Iraq. And so, one year ago, I found myself in the cardinals Manhattan office overlooking Long Island, meeting with him and his senior advisers.
Tell me everything you think I should know about Iraq, he said. For 45 minutes, I gave him the details of our trip, shared the experience of visiting the hospitals and holding the dying children and reported what we heard from United Nations officials, representatives of nongovernmental organizations and religious leaders, including the papal nuncio.
OConnor listened intently. He asked a few specific questions. All along, it was very clear: He was adamantly opposed to the sanctions.
What should I do? he asked.
I think you should go to Iraq, I responded. If you go, you will be able to speak to the whole country on your return about the effects of these unjust economic sanctions on Iraqi children. Perhaps your trip will help save the children of Iraq.
All right, Ill go, he said.
It was as simple as that. I had great hopes of his visit to Iraq taking place sometime last November or December, but unfortunately, he fell sick only a month or so after we met, and was never able to make the journey.
Still, Im surprised and grateful for our meeting, for his profound understanding of the situation in Iraq and the Middle East, and his commitment to ending these economic sanctions and promoting peace with Iraq. When I spoke to him about the Fellowship of Reconciliation and our interfaith work to promote nonviolence around the world, he was open and receptive.
OConnor was learning, like all of us, the great challenge of the gospel -- how to love our enemies. May he receive the blessing promised to all such peacemakers.
Jesuit Fr. John Dear is executive director of the Fellowship of Reconciliation, and author, most recently, of Jesus the Rebel (Sheed & Ward).
National Catholic Reporter, May 19, 2000