Wednesday, May 15, 2019



In an interview with Theodore White, published in Life Magazine in the December 1963 issue, Jacqueline Kennedy, widow of the American President, John Kennedy, assassinated weeks before, stressed, referencing what by then was the mythological name given to her husband’s presidency: ‘Camelot’, from the Arthurian legend, is quoted as saying: “There’ll be great presidents again, but there’ll never be another Camelot….”

In fact, over the decades since Kennedy’s presidency, argued about and in some cases dismantled by historians, would come to resemble more a Shakespearian tragedy rather than the brightness of Camelot. Certainly, looking at the history of the Kennedy clan from Joseph senior to the death of John Kennedy junior, as ends Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet, how often must have the family felt; A glooming peace this morning with it brings. The sun for sorrow will not show his head…For never was a story of more woe. [Act 5, scene 3]

President Kennedy’s assassination in November shocked people around the world, yet he was the fourth US President to be murdered while in office, and not the only world leader, or independence or civil rights leader, among them civil rights leader Medgar Evers, to be murdered in 1963.

The tragic history of that year also witnessed continuous revolutions, civil wars, the emergence of terrorism, such as in Canada where a group called the Front de Liberation du Quebec, FLQ as they were dubbed in the media, began its bombing campaign which would culminate in their murder of a Quebec cabinet minister and kidnapping as well of a British diplomat in late 1970, when the then Prime Minister would impose martial law until the FLQ were weakened almost to oblivion, but it would take almost three decades and two referendums to put the issue of independence if not to rest at least render it comatose.

1963 while not the bloodiest year of the 20th century where wars and death camps, genocide, abortion, spilled so much blood it is a wonder the very oceans did not turn red, did take its place on the continuum of hatred, terrorism, extremism, and wacky theories about religion, environment, gender, which wound the human family to this day.

It was also in 1963 that with their victory in the battle of Ap Boc, the Viet Cong increased the swamp of an unwinnable war, for the Republican South and the Americans, into which the Americans, rather naively had they but learned from the experience of the French, or the British in India, wandered deeper and deeper, with increasing drug use among the troops and other disorders which, with at the time PTSD not being recognized, would permanently scar the returning soldiers.

While the anti-war movement increasingly meshed with the civil rights movement the violence by police and others against the protestors, infamously with the murder by KKK members of four little girls when their church was bombed in Birmingham Alabama, would also sow the seeds of the types of hatred, extremism, to this day of the so-called Alt-right, neo-Nazis groups in the US and many other countries: for when good people, Christians especially, try to confront evil directly, evil will triumph by seducing us into using similar methods, for example the evil of those who claim to be pro-life attacking abortionists.

St. Maxmilian Kolbe defeated the evil intent of the Nazis who would have murdered a young husband and father by, as Christ calls us all to do, laying down his life for the young husband and father. Nazism was ultimately defeated, the priest, Fr. Kolbe, canonized, and another Pole, who suffered under the Nazis occupation of his country, became pope and a saint himself, St. John Paul II.

“I say to you, offer no resistance to one who is evil. When someone strikes you on your right cheek, turn the other one to him as well.” [ Mt.5:39]

On the 11th of April, five years into his pontificate, Jean xxiii issued his encyclical Pacem in Terris, addressing it not only to the Catholic Church but to all of mankind.

Before considering this critical encyclical, not just for the time when it was published, but given the current world situation, its prophetic nature, it should be noted that when Pope John xxiii, and his successors, including Pope Francis, write about the human condition, about war, genocide, revolutions, oppression, the sacredness of the life and dignity of human beings, these are not men, priests, Pontiffs, divorced from the harsh on-the-ground-reality of what they speak about: Pope John xxiii was drafted in the 1st World War into the Royal Italian Army as a stretcher-bearer and would have experienced first hand the wounds and deaths on the battlefield, in the 2nd World War he was Apostolic Delegate in Turkey and at great personal risk thwarted many Gestapo attempts to send Jewish People to the death camps; Pope Paul VI was hounded during WWII by Mussolini’s Fascists because working in the Secretariat of State he tirelessly helped in the hiding of Jews from the Fascists and the Nazis and worked to protect refugees; John Paul i, the first pope born in the 20th century, was living in Fascist-Nazi Italy, not involved in the war directly as he was a student, newly ordained priest, pursuing a doctorate; John Paul ii worked in forced labour during the Nazis occupation of Poland and steadfastly stood up to the communists who took over after the war, and he too, during the war helped our Jewish Brothers and Sisters; Pope Benedict lived under the Hilter regime, was drafted into the military and deserted rather than participate in the war, then was held for months by the Allies as a prisoner of war in a camp without proper shelter or food; Pope Francis was a Jesuit priest and superior during the dictatorship in Argentina, the so-called “Dirty War”, and experienced first hand the violence of the regime.

From the time of the Apostles, and the great letters/epistles of the nascent Church to our own day, we are blessed with a treasury of over two millennia of papal and conciliar documents.  Pacem in Terris certainly ranks among the major documents in the treasury.

The opening paragraph places the issue of peace and all human struggles and needs in the fertile ground of revelation: Peace on Earth—which man throughout the ages has so longed for and sought after—can never be established, never guaranteed, except by the diligent observance of the divinely established order. [1]

Given contemporary anxiety over ‘fake news’ and the amount of disinformation available in social media early on the Pontiff stresses that human beings have:… to be accurately informed about public events. [1] As well, and the struggle for this in our own day with Islamists, for example, attacking Christians around the world: Also among man's rights is that of being able to worship God in accordance with the right dictates of his own conscience, and to profess his religion both in private and in public. [1] With the refugee and migrant crisis around the world, oppression and restriction on movement and assembly in numerous countries this applies in our own day: Again, every human being has the right to freedom of movement and of residence within the confines of his own State. When there are just reasons in favor of it, he must be permitted to emigrate to other countries and take up residence there. The fact that he is a citizen of a particular State does not deprive him of membership in the human family, nor of citizenship in that universal society, the common, world-wide fellowship of men. [1]

More than half a century after Pope John xxiii cried out for the sacredness of human life to be protected, the anti-life forces remain an evil to be resisted in this era of abortion, euthanasia, relativism: ….the right to live involves the duty to preserve one's life; the right to a decent standard of living, the duty to live in a becoming fashion; the right to be free to seek out the truth, the duty to devote oneself to an ever deeper and wider search for it. [1]

This critical encyclical touches on virtually every challenge to individuals and nations, of whatever dominate religious tradition, to learn how to lead lives that are peaceful and without sin, in our families, nations, between nations: ……mutual ties between States must be governed by truth. Truth calls for the elimination of every trace of racial discrimination, and the consequent recognition of the inviolable principle that all States are by nature equal in dignity…..Truth further demands an attitude of unruffled impartiality in the use of the many aids to the promotion and spread of mutual understanding between nations which modern scientific progress has made available. This does not mean that people should be prevented from drawing particular attention to the virtues of their own way of life, but it does mean the utter rejection of ways of disseminating information which violate the principles of truth and justice, and injure the reputation of another nation. [1]

Another point the Pontiff makes, very relevant in our own day of terrorism, extremist governments, tensions between nuclear powers: ……people are living in the grip of constant fear. They are afraid that at any moment the impending storm may break upon them with horrific violence. And they have good reasons for their fear, for there is certainly no lack of….. such weapons. While it is difficult to believe that anyone would dare to assume responsibility for initiating the appalling slaughter and destruction that war would bring in its wake, there is no denying that the conflagration could be started by some chance and unforeseen circumstance. [1] And this, long before state actors were hacking into and manipulating elections in democratic countries: Furthermore, relations between States must be regulated by the principle of freedom. This means that no country has the right to take any action that would constitute an unjust oppression of other countries, or an unwarranted interference in their affairs. On the contrary, all should help to develop in others an increasing awareness of their duties, an adventurous and enterprising spirit, and the resolution to take the initiative for their own advancement in every field of endeavour. [1]

Written with the war in Vietnam raging, numerous countries wherein the people were enduring revolutions, violent oppression by dictatorial regimes, what pain in his heart the beloved Pontiff must have endured, given the decades he had lived himself through wars and revolutions in perhaps the bloodiest century in human history.

The angst within the human family which the compassionate Pontiff addressed with such truth-speaking would continue to deepen throughout the course of the decade, indeed continues to inflict much of humanity still today.

Clues to the depth of this angst are found not simply in news reports nor the clamour of those who are trying to reshape society or the Church or truth through various actions, philosophies, laws, or various violent means such as terrorism. Indeed, an overwhelming amount of contemporary literature fiction, music, films, tv shows reveal the depths of this angst.

In 2016 ITV in England began a mini-series called UNFORGOTEN, about a team of police officers investigating what are commonly called ‘cold cases.’ Fascinating is how much the series reveals contemporary angst and the influence of relativism in the lives of the officers, the victims, their families and the perpetrators of the crimes.

From the series’ opening credits song “All We Do” written and performed by Anthony West and Josephine Vander Gucht: “All we do is hide away. All we do is, all we do is hide away. All we do is chase the day…..All we do is fade…..All we do is play it safe….live inside a cage…..All I did is fail today….All we do is lie and wait. All we do is, all we do is lie and wait. I’ve been upside down. I don’t wanna be the right way round. Can’t find paradise on the ground.”

Already diagnosed with stomach cancer the previous autumn, by May the Holy Father was bedridden, and he died on June 3rd. Known as “Good Pope John” he would be canonized by Pope Francis and now is rightly called St. John XXIII.

[1] All quotations are from the official Vatican translation, with the paragraphs from which the quote is taken enumerated after the link:

1, 12, 14, 25, 29, 86, 90, 111, 120

© 2019 Fr. Arthur Joseph

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