Swiss Dominican Father Georges Cottier cautions that the years of dictatorship in Iraq have left a legacy of poverty and resentment. Below, he analyzes the anxieties that the Iraqi war has awakened in people.
Q: What are the imperatives in Iraq’s reconstruction?
Father Cottier: We have just celebrated the 40th anniversary of the encyclical “Pacem in Terris.” John XXIII defined the four pillars of peace: liberty, justice, truth and love. It’s all there.
In building peace, man, and respect for his rights, must not be forgotten: the rights of the person, but also the rights of peoples. In Iraq, for example, the rights of minorities. It will be a very difficult construction; perhaps the real battle begins now.
Q: In response to the Pope’s appeal, millions of people prayed for peace. Have they been heard?
Father Cottier: By God? I think so. He listens to what we say, although the way he responds is something else. We hope for verifiable, immediate results, but we must not think that this is God’s way of acting.
Q: Why pray then?
Father Cottier: Pray, pray … because there is a very strong belief that peace is almost beyond man’s ability. We are all ready to oppose, to dominate, to fuel hatred.
Peace is a gift of God. So we must pray that he will transform us into builders of peace. In this way, he answers our prayers.
With the war, we entered a drama that has caused many victims. Perhaps we are about to see the end, but let us think of the wounded, the dead, of the disastrous health situation, of the uprooted families.
Undoubtedly, all these souls have been visited by God. This is the invisible work of God that we do not see by definition, but which is real.
Q: Peace must now be built in Iraq.
Father Cottier: To love peace also means to build. God must now direct the wisdom of those responsible for the reconstruction — an endeavor that, as can be seen, will be difficult.
First of all, because we see a country in ruins, where immediate needs are not satisfied, and the resentment resulting from the dictatorship could explode violently. All this makes very fragile the human foundations of peace in Iraq and the whole world.
Moreover, I do not know if this victory of the “North American West” is also a moral victory. To take peace also means to make oneself loved, and I’m afraid that the great Muslim masses, humiliated by this very rapid defeat, will be even more hostile toward the West. And for many of them, the West means Christianity. This should worry us.
Q: How should one act, then?
Father Cottier: We need prayer to obtain wisdom, courage and generosity. Of course, volunteers, the commitment to solidarity, and charity will be determinant. In this way, we can help the United Nations. Its work is indispensable, but it cannot do everything. It needs our cooperation.
Q: You say God is not absent, but many have perceived his silence as a weight.
Father Cottier: What is the silence of God? God is always silent. He speaks in the depth of hearts. He inspires us through the Holy Spirit — let us think about the many persons during these days who have prayed and called on God.
I would not say, therefore, that he was absent. He has been silent because we make much noise. War is turmoil, an explosion of noise. How can we hear God when we are under bombs?
He leaves humanity free to experience evil. It is an indirect way in which God speaks to us. Suffice it to read the historical books of the Old Testament, Israel’s constant experience of disaster, of deportation.
In everything, what prevails is the examination of conscience, the question: “What have we done? Might we not have caused this evil ourselves?” And this is the first step toward conversion.
Q: The Pope continues to stress the need to educate in peace.
Father Cottier: It is not enough to have an affinity or feeling for peace. There is a political aspect, a real science of peace. The Church does not cease to say that the poverty of the South of the planet is one of the reasons that causes the conflicts.
One part of humanity suffers the lack of justice. And justice implies institutions and laws, which cannot be improvised.
This is also why John Paul II insists on the importance of the United Nations, an institution that is still very imperfect, certainly, but it is the first authorized entity for the universal regulation of problems.
Then there is education, the one that leads to a love of peace. And it begins with children. They are the ones who must be taught the beauty of peace.