It’s that time of the year when news rushes at us like a change in the weather.
It comes from every direction. There is the ubiquitous election campaign, rife with its numbers and polls, charges and countercharges, advertising and spin doctors.
Whatever news space isn’t filled by the campaign is overflowing with violence. The attacks on embassies; the murder of a career diplomat whose chief mission in life was to try and bring peace to a roiling part of the world. Burning flags; hostage taking; street-corner murders — all images on the television every day.
Couple all the news with back-to-school pressures, the press of autumn sports and the on-rushing holiday season — yes, there has already been an on-line story about “early Christmas shopping” — and you can see how a few significant news items might escape attention.
For instance, you might be forgiven if you didn’t know that Sept. 21 was the International Day of Peace, proclaimed so by the General Assembly of the United Nations. The UN Secretary General, Ban Ki-moon, urged people the world over to observe the “day of peace” and to “work together to ensure … sustainable development, sustainable peace and a secure future for all.”
You could also be forgiven if you missed coverage of Pope Benedict XVI’s recent trip to Lebanon and his message to people who’ve been battered by war and violence, prejudice and bigotry.
The pope visited Lebanon Sept. 14 to 16 on the heels of the Sept. 11 uprising in Libya that resulted in the death of United States Ambassador Christopher Stevens and three staff members.
While in Lebanon, the pope told young Christians in the Middle East that they should have courage in the face of their tribulations — that they should not flee violence but “draw strength from their faith and make peace in their troubled region,” according to a Catholic News Service story.
“Courageously resist everything opposed to life: abortion, violence, rejection of and contempt for others, injustice and war,” Pope Benedict said while speaking in Bkerke, Lebanon. “In this way you will spread peace all around you.”
It is, of course, easier said than done and the pope recognizes the difficulties faced by peacemakers. When he returned to Vatican City, he told his Sept. 19 general audience that he’d been welcomed in the Middle East with great respect, and the presence of Muslims at each of his public events “gave me an opportunity to launch a message of dialogue and cooperation between Christianity and Islam.”
“I believe the time has come to give a sincere and decisive witness together against divisions, against violence and against war,” he said. “Watching young Christians and Muslims celebrating together in great harmony, I urged them to build together the future of Lebanon and the Middle East, and to oppose together violence and war. Agreement and reconciliation must be stronger than the temptations of death.”
When wars and rumors of wars are flying, when local violence dominates the news, when a day seldom passes in the Archdiocese of Louisville without someone shooting someone somewhere, it’s difficult to remember the pope’s words — and the strength of the truth that lies within them.
Love conquers hate. Peace will eventually triumph over violence. We are supposed to know and carry that in our hearts; but sometimes we need reminding.
We need reminding when we hear local voices painting, with an oversized brush, all Muslims with the taint of extremism. We need to remember that love is greater than hate when we see the “Nuke ‘em all — let Allah sort it out” bumper stickers, which seem to be enjoying a new popularity.
We need to remember, as Globe and Mail writer Doug Saunders recently noted in the New York Times, that violence and vitriol against Muslims in the 21st Century can be compared to violence and vitriol against Catholics in the 19th and 20th centuries.
“From the 19th century on, distrust, violence and, eventually, immigration restrictions were aimed at waves of Roman Catholic immigrants,” Saunders wrote in the Sept. 18 edition of The Times. “As late as 1950, 240,000 Americans bought copies of American Freedom and Catholic Power, a New York Times best seller. Its author, Paul Blanshard, a former diplomat and editor at The Nation, made the case that Catholicism was an ideology of conquest, and that its traditions constituted a form of ‘medieval authoritarianism that has no rightful place in the democratic American environment.’ ”
Catholics’ high birthrates and “educational self-segregation led Mr. Blanshard and others — including scholars, legislators and journalists — to warn of a ‘Catholic plan for America,’ ” Saunders noted.
Let’s hope there is a “Catholic plan” for today. And let our memories teach us that such a plan needs to honor peacemakers and embrace those who need our help. Let our plan put Pope Benedict’s words to action, “spreading peace” all around us.