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Rome Notes: Prodding the Pope; Iraq, the U.S. and Rome

A Gentle Nudging by Don Stanislaw

By Delia Gallagher

ROME, APRIL 30, 2004 (Zenit) - The week before Easter, the Pope was seated in St. Peter's Square giving an address to a crowd of young people from parishes around Rome.

At a certain point while talking, the Pope paused to catch his breath and the crowd, as they are wont to do, began chanting, "John Paul II, we love you," "Viva il Papa!"

The Pope looked up and let them continue.

Cheering and chanting, they waved their banners in the evening twilight.

The Pope continued to watch them, without speaking; the text of his speech was in his hands.

A minute went by, two minutes; still no word from the Pope.

He had not yet finished his talk, and the relaxed faces of the priests seated behind him began to look nervous. They could not see the Pope and did not understand why he was not continuing his speech.

Archbishop Stanislaw Dziwisz, the Pope's private secretary who is always close by, was also seated behind, with a copy of the Holy Father's speech in his hands.

Don Stanislaw is a man who never interferes with the Pope during his public appearances. But as three minutes turned to four, the concern on the dais was palpable -- though not to the crowd, who continued chanting, nor to the Pope who continued watching them.

Finally, Don Stanislaw came forward toward the Pope.

He walked up to the side of his chair and said something; the Pope continued looking straight ahead. Don Stanislaw began to walk away.

"Hmmph!" said the Pope loudly into the microphone. Then a pause.

"They're telling me I must get on with it!" he said in Italian, to the delight and relief of those watching.

The crowd continued cheering and the Pope continued his speech.

* * *

Staying the Course

The U.S. Embassy to the Holy See sponsored a conference entitled, "Revitalizing International Law to Meet the Challenge of Terrorism," at the Gregorian University last week.

A few days after the conference I sat down with U.S. Ambassador Jim Nicholson to discuss the conference and the new edition of his book, "USA and the Holy See, The Long Road," which contains prefaces written by U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell and Cardinal Jean-Louis Tauran, the former Vatican secretary for relations with states.

I asked Ambassador Nicholson what effect he thinks the conference will have at the Vatican.

"A conference like this plants seeds," he said, "and transfers information among key people."

"You have a group of diplomats listening to the dichotomy that was presented: that terrorists are a threat to civil society ... one speaker likening them to pirates; that pirates were a common enemy which justified any country that was being victimized by them to take appropriate action against them.

"You heard the French diplomat exercising a great deal of cautionary talk, saying we have to be careful resorting to force against terrorism. We could make things worse; we need to try to do this with dialogue, caution and reason. And the Italian took a middle ground."

"What seems to us so palpably obvious," Nicholson said, "some thinkers and change-agents in these allied countries don't see it that way, even yet."

I suggested that the Pope himself might be one of those who does not see eye-to-eye with the American administration.

"The first conversation I ever had with the Pope was 9/13/01," said Ambassador Nicholson, "when he said to me emphatically, 'This wasn't just an attack on you,' meaning the United States, 'this was an attack on humanity.' He implied that humanity was going to have to take steps against these people and has been supportive of our efforts against terrorism ever since."

And his "No to war"?

"That 'no' came from the Pope. The Pope did not want this to happen. The Pope grew up in Poland under the Soviet regime and saw that rectified short of violence. So I think he's reinforced in his view to try to get man to bring about these goals of freedom, justice and dignity, short of having to kill each other to do it.

"If you read the transcript, there is a comma after that 'no.' It says 'war is not always inevitable,' meaning that sometimes war has to be the option."

Why, then, did the overwhelming message from the Vatican seem to be against American intervention?

"The media immediately took off down the wrong road. There were members of the Curia that did as well. In fact, there was one member who, when asked if there were any conditions, albeit hypothetical, under which the United States would be justified in going into Iraq and he said, 'Absolutely not.' That's the voice of a pacifist, and the ...

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