Sunday, April 03, 2005


The recent death of Pope John-Paul II has occasioned much comment about his stance against war. As Timothy Garton Ash pointed out some years ago this has a consistency going back to the 1944 Warsaw uprising against Nazi occupation. This was certainly a tactical mistake. Soviet forces were happy to stand by while the Polish insurgents were massacred. Norman Davies tells how the Soviet soldiers were on one bank of the river while the Germans were on the other opposite: ' "They didn't fire at each other, but if any Soviet soldiers tried to cross the river to help the Poles, both sides fired at him."  There is a chilling mournfulness to the image the account conjures up - Russian soldiers literally sunbathing on one side of the Vistula while the Germans literally obliterated Warsaw street by street on the other.'  ('The Warsaw Uprising, Told Vividly by a Welshman', The New York Times, 31 July 2004).

The second big influence on Karol Wojtyła was his mentor Cardinal Wyszynski. He was open in his opposition to communism and was imprisoned. Wojtyła was less confrontational in his course. The story of Nowa Huta and the bishop of Cracow I mentioned some months ago. There patience and, finally, compromise paid off.

Under communism, the Church resisted merely by continuing to exist and retaining the allegiance of the people. It was different under right-wing dictators. Many of these, like Franco and Salazar, claimed to be upholding the principles of the Church.

A week or two ago there was a piece on the BBC about Archbishop Oscar Romero to mark the 25th anniversary of his assassination (not this, but it's worth reading anyway): 'I implore you, I beg you, I order you - stop the repression,' he said two days before he was shot dead (and there was probably an 'in God's name in there). The 3 words (probably 2 in Spanish), 'I order you', would have been enough to seal his fate. In effect, he was ordering members of the armed forces to disobey their order.

Pope John-Paul is said to have kept Romero waiting around when he received him and then rejected his arguments.


The World Service again has a plum in 'The interview' (link here - again wait for the link to be updated sometime Monday perhaps) - Tariq Ramadan (see here):  'France has a problem with Islam per se.' When he re-applied for a visa to the US, he was asked whether he supported the Iraq war. 


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