God, history will judge war choice

That was the banner headline of The Catholic Post on March 23, 2003, three days after the U.S.-led invasion of Iraq began. It also applies this week in the days after President Barack Obama announced an end to combat operations in Iraq.

But that’s about all that is similar between the “shock and awe” start to the invasion and the strangely quiet end to combat operations in late August.

As we thank God that an end may be in sight to this conflict, as we mourn the dead and injured on both sides, and as we beg the continuing prayers of Catholics of our diocese for our troops still in harm’s way as well as innocent civilians in Iraq and Afghanistan, it’s interesting to take a look back at how active the church was in the weeks and months before this conflict began.

Our pages in early 2003 contained story after story pleading for peace. There was great debate about how the notion of a “preventative war” meshed with the “just war” principles of Catholic social teaching.

“Thoughtful Catholics should demand that President Bush show how this war is absolutely necessary and justified,” wrote Msgr. Stuart Swetland, then director of the Newman Foundation of the University of Illinois, six weeks before the invasion.

In speech after speech, Pope John Paul II sought peaceful solutions. “We will above all implore from God the conversion of hearts and the wisdom of just decisions to resolve with peaceful and adequate means the disagreements that hinder humanity’s pilgrimage in our time,” he said in asking all Catholics to fast for the intention of peace on Ash Wednesday, March 3, 2003.

When war broke two weeks later, Bishop Jenky presided at a Mass in Time of War at St. Mary’s Cathedral. He urged Catholics of the diocese “to continue their prayers for justice, peace, and an end to terrorism throughout the world.” No one prayed more then, or in the seven years to follow, than the families and friends of the brave men and women serving overseas.

Combat operations in Iraq may, or may not, be over, depending on the definition. But this much is sure: our prayers for the intentions Bishop Jenky listed should never end. — Thomas J. Dermody

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