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The pastoral making of peace is never done.

Ten years ago, when Father J. Bryan Hehir stepped off a plane on his way to Chicago's Palmer House for a meeting of the National Conference of Catholic Bishops, he was lugging a briefcase stuffed with 400 amendments to a proposed pastoral on peace.

His case had to be fatter than he was. Hehir, now the Catholic pastor at Harvard University and an associate at the Harvard-Radcliffe Center for International Relations, is as thin as a goat. He eats only once a day, relying on soda pop for the rest of his intake. It's as if he gets his nourishment from ideas rather than food.

But his IQ is vastly higher than his weight. Hehir had no trouble holding the attention of a room filled with priests and peaceniks gathered at the Chicago Cultural Center to hear his reflections on the 10th anniversary of the pastoral that became known as "The Challenge of Peace: God's Promise and Our Response."

You had to admire the priests, most of whom were not skinny. These largely middle-aged clerics are pie eaters, except on feast days when it's pie with ice cream. They had gathered for the 25th annual caucus of the National Federation of Priests Councils.

Cardinal Joseph Bernardin, chair of the committee that developed the 45,000-word pastoral, was not at home in his archdiocese to greet the priests. He was giving a retreat to the priests of the Springfield, Ill., diocese. But he had just returned from the diocese of Norwich, Conn., where he spoke on the pastoral, together with Bishop Daniel P. Reilly, the local ordinary, a member of the original committee and now its chair. Both bishops continue to blow on the document's fire, hoping to keep the flame alive.

Bernardin brought the unfinished pastoral to Chicago when he became archbishop in 1982. In July of that year, more than 500,000 citizens marched in New York City to urge nuclear powers to disarm. The superpowers then shared 50,000 nuclear warheads, enough to insure an eternal supply of Ash Wednesday ashes. But the United States and the Soviet Union had not met formally to discuss the matter in four years.

Hehir was the principal intellectual architect behind the pastoral. Bernardin steered it through a forest of bishops, patiently gathering paragraphs from those who wanted their oar in the document's waters. These were men who had been raised to the five or six neat little axioms that made up just-war theory. It took them time to realize that the bomb had grotesquely skewed just-war norms, turning the principle of proportionality into a sick joke. But when the clerically polite dialogue ended, the paper passed with only nine dissenting votes.

Interest in the pastoral ran high. When the bishops changed the verb "halt" to "curb" in referring to the proliferation of nuclear warheads, the new wording was front-page news across the nation. People were watching the magisterium. Bernardin took the pastoral to the Vatican where he had a 45-minute visit with John Paul II.

"I never lived in a communist country," Bernardin said after the pastoral was published. "I don't know what it's like." Translation: The pope had hesitated. It was as if he wanted to permit a few bombs, just in case. But after hearing Bernardin, John Paul II told him to print it. Later, in his own encyclicals, he would condemn nuclear weapons even more strongly than the American bishops.

In his remarks, Hehir reflected that a decade ago, nuclear war seemed inevitable. As a consequence, the nuclear question raised in the pastoral was so overwhelming that it may have obsured the peace message that was its primary focus. "Now, we feel relieved," he said. "But how come we don't feel so good?"

The church sounded good in Hehir's tightly reasoned summary. He found roots of the message of peace as early as Augustine, who is often cited as the father of the just war. Augustine wrote, "If someone wants to take my life, I will not resist." He did not oppose the "something new" that Christians were holding; he only questioned how Christians could be faithful to both Christ and country.

Augustine's teachings dominated Catholic thinking until Pius XII's death in 1958. For the next 30 years, the world lived in dread fear of making a mistake that would pull the pin on a nuclear grenade. But in that period, the church produced Pacem in Terris, Gaudium et Spes and "The Challenge of Peace," three documents that anticipated John Paul II's statement that "violence contradicts faith."

Hehir reminded his listeners that the reduction of nuclear weapons had eased the Cold War but had not prevented such dangers as Kuwait and Bosnia. Now, it seems, we are willing to purchase peace at the price of mistreatment of others. Now we witness 40 armed conflicts around the world, some using the systematic rape of women as an instrument of war.

Just before Hehir's remarks, Irish Columban Father Sean McDonagh reminded the group of other current issues: He said the United States continued to be the No. 1 arms peddler while preaching disarmament; he mentioned the destruction of the environment -- a slowly exploding nuclear bomb -- and the fact that the U.S. government dumps 500,000 tons of toxic waste annually, more than all the private companies combined; he said the need to repay impossibly high debts to the United States costs Third World countries the lives of 500,000 children each year.

McDonagh reminded the audience that $418 billion had gone from the South to the North in the past 10 years -- the reverse equivalent of six Marshall Plans.

Hehir quoted McDonagh and concluded that documents such as Pacem in Terris and "The Challenge of Peace" can still work but that they fell some-what short on some issues. "Now," he said, "we must go to a different level of specificity. Now there is an even greater need for stronger voices that are deeply rooted in a moral vision of life."

Bernardin wrote that the final chapter of the pastoral called the world to be a community of conscience. "Peacemaking is not an optional commitment," he said. "It is a requirement of faith."

Hehir said, "The nuclear weapons paralyzed us." Now he seemed to be saying that the "something special" that the early Christians held in their hands must be recaptured again and that we can be a community of hope. "Remember what has happened," he said, "but push ahead with hope."

Hehir flooded the microphone with hope. But the crowd of priests and laity who still believed that a world without war is not an illusive quest gave my sagging hopes an even greater booster shot.

For your homework, read "Challenge" again.
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Title Annotation:Fr. J. Bryan Hehir
Author:Unsworth, Tim
Publication:National Catholic Reporter
Article Type:Column
Date:Jun 4, 1993
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