Our summer of discontent

It was hard not to think about war these past few months. The normal doldrums of summer news were filled with constant updates and almost none of it was encouraging.

Much of it was occurring far away — Ukraine, Gaza, Syria, Iraq, Afghanistan, Nigeria, Congo and probably a dozen or so other countries that our news media don’t even attempt to monitor and report. Each developing or escalating conflict deepened the fog of uncertainty and, I regret to admit, even hopelessness.

Admittedly, there was a truce reached late last month between the Israelis and Palestinians, but it was fragile. Commentators suggested the Russian president might be open to conversation to change his aggressive course in Ukraine, but others scoffed at such notions. That pretty much exhausts the list of positive signs.

Most disturbing was our growing awareness of the hatred and brutality of an Islamic organization terrorizing Syria and Iraq. With each passing summer day came news of a new attack, a boast on Twitter, a further example of this entity’s ferocious agenda. One didn’t need to see the YouTube video of American journalist James Foley being murdered in Syria to realize the horror of his demise. It went without saying that he wouldn’t be the last.

Then in August, what had been distant thunder erupted closer to home when a young black man, preparing to go away to college, was shot by a police officer in Missouri. It wasn’t war, but the shooting and ensuing protests added fuel to simmering, complicated conflicts of race and economic inequality. This occurred just prior to me leaving on vacation in a rather isolated region of central Michigan. Every day I’d get the newspaper hoping to read of quieter streets, of some sense of healing, but instead the shouting was getting louder and the fear and division accelerating. The best we can say, a month away from the young man’s death, is that either people have grown tired of the protests or we’ve grown too weary to care.

And while all of that was evolving, there were the first retrospectives on the beginning of World War I, 100 years ago this summer. We were reminded of how an assassination in Sarajevo was the spark igniting long-simmering tensions in Europe and elsewhere. We saw the distressing link between that war and much of the conflict we endure today. We were reminded of how little we learn from one generation to the next.

One glimmer of light I discovered between then and now pertains to the Catholic Church and the pope. Pope Pius X who died in August 1914 had essentially separated the institutional church from an evolving world. He feared or opposed modern encroachment, but isolation meant the Church had little voice in anything that was happening. It would take a couple years for his successor, Benedict XV, to reclaim a role for the Church in addressing war and the other injustices confronting humanity and warranting a gospel response.

Throughout our summer of discontent Pope Francis spoke out frequently and prominently, not identifying solutions but drawing the world’s attention to the inhumanity, the anguish, and urging the world community — believers and non — to be guided by love and mercy instead of hatred and revenge. Who knows what, if any, affect those words have had, but at least the pope was speaking them, which wasn’t the case a century ago. TL



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