Pope Benedict journeyed to Lebanon the other week. In what has been for me the outstanding pontificate of my lifetime as a Catholic (I was received into the Church in 1965), it was one of his finest hours yet. If it is not presumptuous of a layman of no account, I want to offer my tribute to him as pope and as a man.
As a man, he showed physical courage. Of course he was surrounded by security in Lebanon, but his immediate predecessor, John Paul II, surrounded by his own bodyguards and on his own turf, Vatican City, was shot by a Muslim gunman. Could it be absolutely guaranteed that in the Middle East another fanatic would not be able to breach the security cordon around Benedict? Assassins killed Anwar Sadat as he reviewed a military parade staged on an army base! Further, even as Benedict’s plane landed in the country, sectarian fighting was going on in some of its northern cities.
With no risk, you could bet every dime you have that no sitting president or prime minister of a major Western nation would make the trip that Pope Benedict just did. Of course none of that current crop would likely be filled with the conviction, as the Pope visibly is, that nothing happens except according to the will of God.
Everywhere he went, Benedict was welcomed by large and enthusiastic crowds that included Christians from many Middle Eastern lands besides Lebanon. Perhaps this reflected the growing sentiment among many that if any recent pope deserves the descriptive “great” attached to his name, it is this one.
On the official level, it was to be expected that as both religious leader and visiting head of state, Benedict would be accorded every honor due any pope, and he was. However, anyone paying more than glancing attention had to note that even the military wing of Hezbollah had representatives at the Lebanese government’s official reception of Benedict. Was this owing to what the Pontiff told journalists on his flight to Beirut?
The reports I saw didn’t say in which language the Pope spoke, but whether in English or another tongue accurately translated, Benedict declared that sending arms into Syria these days is a “grave sin”.
This time it was as pope he showed courage. After all, who is it chiefly providing, if through proxies, the wherewithal to the radical Sunnis (including Al Queda fighters) trying to bring down the government of President Assad? It is the world’s sole remaining (for now) superpower, the United States. That’s who the Pope was taking on when he spoke, more authoritatively than anyone else on earth can, of “grave sin”.
To be sure, the Pontiff would not have seen himself “taking on” anyone, no more than did his namesake Benedict XV when, working in tandem with Bl. Emperor Karl of the House of Austria, he sought to end World War I. If that effort failed in part because dissolution of the empire ruled by Bl. Karl was demanded by the U.S. as a condition for peace, the Pope was still doing his duty, as is Benedict XVI. Seeking peace is something popes do, even as seeking to put down armed rebellions is something governments do, as in Syria today.
We have become used lately to Hillary Clinton telling us “it is not a question of if, but when” the radical Sunnis will succeed in taking power in Syria (with U.S. backing). We ought to remember something else she has said.
Perhaps you recall. It was in October of last year. An aide handed her a mobile device so she could see the images from Libya that we were all seeing, the ones of Muammar Gaddafi pinned to the hood of a vehicle and being pummeled, punched, spat upon. He looked like he wished someone would just get it over with and shoot him.
Someone soon did.
And what was the reaction of the Secretary of State? “We came, we saw, we killed,” she exulted.
The horror is the chief State Department flunky sent into Libya to superintend the rebel groups overthrowing Gaddafi was none other than J. Christopher Stevens, who was then named U.S. ambassador to the country – the one killed in Benghazi this September 11, evidently by one of the very groups he had overseen, or thought he was overseeing.
That’s the trouble with everything the U.S. has been doing in the Middle East during the past twenty years. Either we don’t know what we’re doing or, if we do, must intend the instability, turmoil and (as in Syria) civil strife now besetting most of the Arab nations.
If it is the latter case, in whose interest is such a state of affairs?
The question is only tangential to what mainly wants to be said here. We do not know, and may not learn for years, what Pope Benedict may be doing behind the scenes with the resources he has to advance the cause of stability and peace in the Middle East – peace from which the region’s remaining Christians would certainly benefit, not least in Syria where, under Assad, they are not merely numerous but have occupied high government offices (the defense minister assassinated a few months ago was an Orthodox Christian). However, it is easy to surmise he is doing what he can.
What else could explain the boldness of his statement on the plane taking him to Lebanon? Was it not a signal to others, like the Russians endlessly vilified by our mass media, who are trying to keep a lid on developments, a signal saying, “I see what’s going on. You can trust me to work with you.”
Perhaps I am hoping for too much. Perhaps all the Pope can do is speak out as he now has. But with so much of the world being run by Hillary Clintons of both sexes, hearing unvarnished truth – hearing such manly talk – was, and is, plenty to be thankful for.