SOME OF YOU came to the day conference at St Mary’s University last Tuesday, The Catholic Church and International Relations, organised by the university’s Masters’ programmes in Catholic Social Teaching and Diplomacy and International Relations. The final keynote speaker was Archbishop Claudio Gugerotti, Apostolic Nuncio (that is, the Pope’s ambassador) to Great Britain (the papers will be published next year, but you can see some photos here. The nuncio’s address was inspiring and passionate, explaining theologically the basis of how the Church works, through the diplomacy of the Holy See and in other ways, to advance peace and reconciliation in the world. He also imparted a blessing to conference participants from Pope Francis. In his address he looked at the relationship Christians should have with nation states, and quoted a document from the early Church known as the Epistle to Diognetus, in which the author explains that for Christians ‘Every foreign land is to them as their native country, and every land of their birth as a land of strangers.’ This is one reason why the Church, drawing on the experiences of the people of Israel in the Old Testament, is so close spiritually to the experiences of migrants and refugees throughout history. Pope Francis, the most important moral leader in the world today, has repeatedly stressed the need for peace, for negotiations, in relation to the terrible war in Ukraine: today is the World Day of the Poor, and in his special message for today [it’s on the noticeboard in the porch and available here] the Holy Father says this: ‘The war in Ukraine has now been added to the regional wars that for years have taken a heavy toll of death and destruction. Yet here the situation is even more complex due to the direct intervention of a “superpower” aimed at imposing its own will in violation of the principle of the self-determination of peoples. Tragic scenarios are being reenacted and once more reciprocal extortionate demands made by a few potentates are stifling the voice of a humanity that cries out for peace. What great poverty is produced by the senselessness of war! Wherever we look, we can see how violence strikes those who are defenceless and vulnerable’. (sections 1 -2)

Catholic teaching about the unacceptability of war, which the pope has reiterated constantly, is not an optional extra – it is something we all need to follow. What is uncomfortable for many is that this teaching doesn’t just challenge aggressors such as the Russian Federation: it challenges the Republic of Ukraine and other countries which have been victims of unprovoked attacks: much of what the Holy Father has said and has tried to do has not gone down well in Ukraine, and it’s also a problem for war-mongering politicians in this country, much of the rest of Europe and the United States.

In this country today is also Remembrance Sunday, when we pray for the souls of those who have been victims of modern war: traditionally here the 11am Mass is a Requiem Mass for them. This is an important observance; many of us lost family members in the two world wars of the last century, and in our church a special memorial plaque names parishioners who died in the last war. You are not dishonouring them if you question some of the ways in which Remembrance Sunday is marked which are deeply militaristic, or if you are critical of the way in which the dead are manipulated in support of present day policies which support warfare: Christians need to reclaim it. Our Catholic Peace organisation Pax Christi (which we support financially with a special collection on Peace Sunday in January each year) has produced special material for today, and the picture on this front page is taken from that material – the basic leaflet, giving links to other resources, can be found at here. The authentic witness of Catholics is costly: we have been accused of treason and disloyalty for centuries, but it is important to take strength from one another and from the teaching ministry of the pope and the bishops. I will end with more words from the work which Archbishop Gugerotti quoted on Tuesday, the Epistle to Diognetus: ‘[Christians] love all people, and are persecuted by all. They are unknown and condemned; they are put to death, and restored to life. They are poor, yet make many rich; they are in lack of all things, and yet abound in all; they are dishonoured, and yet in their very dishonour they are glorified. They are evil spoken of, and yet are justified; they are reviled, and bless; they are insulted, and repay the insult with honour; they do good, yet are punished as evil-doers.’ (chapter 5)

Fr Ashley