On March 19, we will mark the fourth anniversary of the invasion of Iraq. When “Operation Iraqi Freedom” began and unfolded, the horrendous death, destruction and violence of war loomed over the Lenten season.
Now, four years later, we are again journeying through Lent as the conflict rages and worsens. Four years later, I find myself picking up the morning newspaper or watching the evening news with a growing sense of both anger and frustration at what seems our nation’s entrapment in a nightmarish maze without any exits. I feel each day an incredible sadness and an overwhelming sense of emptiness and numbness at the number of lives lost and mounting on all sides of the conflict: more than 3,100 U.S. soldiers killed and, by some estimates, more than 56,000 Iraqi civilians.
Before you read further, please know that I am no expert on combat strategy, politics or international affairs. Having said that, I do write as a person who wishes to live and teach the way of Christ’s peace and who is vehemently opposed to the use of military conflict except as an absolute last resort. I also write as one who — like many or even most Americans, if polls are any indication — feel that some end to this war and our military involvement in Iraq must be in our leaders’ near view, main mission and absolute goal.
Of course, the emotional part of me, tired of reading about young lives snuffed out by this war, only wants it to end now and the troops to come home — an immediate withdrawal.
Intellectually, of course, I know that Americans cannot simply shake the dust off our hands and walk away tomorrow, so inextricably linked is our nation with the complexities of the Middle East, so responsible are we for the situation we helped create four years ago.
To that end, my brother bishops and I have, from the beginning, not only expressed grave moral concerns about our military intervention in Iraq and the unpredictable and uncontrollable negative consequences of invasion and occupation, but we also have supported broader regional and international engagement to increase security, stability and reconstruction in Iraq.
To be honest with you, I do not have a blueprint of how that would all work. But I do believe that these goals are critically important steps toward the resolution of this complex problem. And I do believe the United States has the resources at hand to achieve them.
On a much more personal level, what I can and must do is to engage myself fully in what it means to experience Lent in a time of war — to offer God my heartfelt prayer, my hard sacrifices and fasting as a plea to the Prince of Peace for a just and quick solution, a peace that works for all.
I ask you to do so as well.
Join me in undertaking the penitential journey toward Easter with the deepest appreciation of the sacrifices our young men and women are making in Iraq, as well as the tremendous suffering innocent people are experiencing in that war-torn country.
Join with me in learning much, much more about the complex issues that face not only Iraq but the entire region, so that we can speak intelligently and with conviction to our nation’s leaders. As the 2008 presidential election draws near, join me in paying extra attention to what the candidates say about our role in international affairs and let us not be swayed by expensive ads and media hype.
Communicate your feelings to those leaders in Congress and in the White House, if only to ask them to focus all of their energies not on expanding this war but bringing a workable peace and cease-fire to Iraq as soon as is humanly possible with the help and cooperation of the world community.
As you know, Easter is all about hope. It is all about transforming the worst of situations, even death itself.
It is about new life, new chances, new directions and, above all, it is about God’s love for us and God’s desire that his Creation be a place of beauty and peace.
Let it be so in Iraq.
Peace to all.