Jesus Christ - The figure of the innocent amid the horrors of wars
Jubilee 2000 Search

The figure of the innocent amid the horrors of wars

Igor Man

Convinced as I am, that no war is "right" even if some are inevitable, I have often asked myself the difficult question, that was asked by Norberto Bobbio: "Will the previsions of peace have the same credibility as the previsions of war?" Asking oneself a question such as this means giving yourself much torment, but, maybe those who genuinely "expect" peace, now and for always, just don't want to suffer. (I think of he Palestinians: Arabs and Jews; I think of the desperate men in Rwanda and Burundi, in Zaire and in Sudan and Bosnia, etc.) Even those who fight want peace. Just peace. Probably because the culture of war died with Vietnam.

At one time, society accepted the war "because war resolves." To those of my generation, they taught that war was "a necessary evil." Today, its different. A Cardinal-Pastor tells me, that today everyone realizes that war solves nothing, it just gives the smallest illusion of a surgical operation on an organism gunned down by the metastasis of a bad tumor. "Instead, peace, halting the course of death, saves life, it gives the hope of justice."

Maybe, its really like this. (Its really true). I don't know. I am just an old journalist who walked along in the world, always stepping into war: even if all the times I passed through it, I always found a great quest for peace. I covered (as a journalist, armed only with a notebook and a pen) all the wars of the Middle East; I wrote about the long civil war which transformed Lebanon from a producer of wealth to a producer of bodies; I was a witness to the horrors of Vietnam and of the infinite guerrilla wars that cropped up around the world in the last 50 years and I can say that "everywhere and no matter" I saw peace invoked. Especially by those who fought or were forced to fight. According to credible estimates, there exists in the world, 250,000 child-soldiers (from "L'esercito invisibile"--"The invisible Army" by R. Casadei-"Mondo e Missione," Dec. 1996). But what forces a child to embrace a kalashnikov? For many adolescents, war is "a normal condition of life," since they have not known peace. For many others, its an effective way to avoid hunger, and some of the impuberal soldiers take up arms, moved by the so-called "need of adults," which they feel because "physically or emotionally they are separated by their natural parents." An example from El Salvador explains that practically all the youngest muchachos of the Frente Farabunda Marti "were children who had seen their own parents captured and/or tortured, or even killed by soldiers of the army, their houses burned. In search of protection, they became part of the guerrilla groups." In the long merciless history of war, there is always a red thread of violence, of hunger, sewing past and present. And that thread of violence comes and goes through the needle's eye of the innocent. How many desperate children, how many old people crazy with fear did this old journalist not see from Vietnam to Lebanon, from El Salvador to Iraq, etc. How many horror stories did I not gather in the immense space of solitude of children saved from this or that massacre. Between 1945 and 1996, 160 conflicts killed more than 24 million people. For the most part, in civil wars, and by a huge majority, children. UNICEF denounced a "universe of brutality:" only in the last 15 years, have we seen more than 2 million small bodies torn apart by bombs; almost 10 million precocious invalids; almost 2 million orphans. "Official" wars, "marginal" wars: from Vietnam to Algeria, from the Middle East to Latin America, Herod never died, the crucifixion of Jesus renews itself. Painfully. Inexorably. Day after day. Several times, the old journalist, faced with the umpteenth "massacre of the innocent" was tempted to ask himself: God, where were you, where are you? The same question of Elie Wiesel at Auschwitz, being part of the interminable agony of a Jewish child who was slowly hanged so he would suffer more. "God where are you?" The answer is-definitively- given by that Polish priest who would sacrifice himself for others, at Auschwitz: "God is here, on the scaffold. God is in his child on the cross." (The answer is now historic, which if closely examined is the paraphrase of the invocation of Saint Chatherine of Siena: "Where were you, oh my Lord, when I was suffering, where were you when my heart was in the mud?"; I was there, in the mud").

Now they ask the old journalist to say who Christ is for him. Christ is the innocent nailed to the cross as a martyr for the most heinous crime of man: war. And the innocence is not just of the children or the mothers; it is also of the adults, even of the sinners. Jesus was young when he climbed up Golgotha, but he was already as ancient as the Mystery of his mercy: he absolved the thief, promising him Heaven. In this way he gave him back his innocence.

The invitation to an experience of union with God (adhaerere to Him), "in Christ and for Christ," its in the Gospel and in Saint Paul. Therefore only the spiritual experience can refill the Christian and, at the same time, crucify him: from the moment that the "Cross is the teaching road that leads to the union of love." A new martyr has reminded us of all of this recently, with the sacrifice of his clear life: Monsignor Pierre Claverie, Bishop of Orano. Following the death of the seven Trappist monks last May, they begged him to leave Algeria, as he was in the line of fire of terrorists. He answered: "They ask us to leave the country since our lives are in danger, but that is exactly the time to seal all that we have left through the gift of our lives, just as Jesus Christ did." The night of August 1, 1996 the killed him along with his driver. Even Don Juan, a young Salesian father, capitulated as deputy parish priest in a faction of Las Palmas, during he prologada war of El Slavador, refused to leave the handful of houses where his parishioners were women, children and the elderly. That faction of Las Palmas had five pathetic hectares of land, since it continuously changed hands: from the army to the muchachos and from them (the guerrillas) to the rulers. Don Juan was a teacher, he celebrated mass, he ploughed the land, and sometimes he took on the role of obstetric. Every time the rulers "invited" him to leave that border spot, Don Juan responded: "The pastor cannot abandon his flock." (Saints are not afraid to fall back on rhetoric). Precisely as is written in the "priestly" Gospel: "I am the good shepherd, I know my sheep and my sheep know me, as the Father knows me and I know the Father; and I lay down my life for the sheep" (John 10, 11-18).

One terrible day at five in the morning, Peter Arnett barged into my room at the Camino Real in San Salvador. "They killed the priest," he said. Before abandoning for the twentieth time that (disgraced) zone of Las Palmas, the rulers had ordered Don Juan to take off with them but: "I cannot leave my flock" is how the little Salesian once again answered and they murdered him, nailing him to the main door of his wooden shack. And he died crucified, watched over by a few terrorized women, the crying of children and the immovable pity of the old people. "Still today, in the fundamentalist Sudan of the Sheik El Tourabi, the Sudanese Christians suspected of reading the Gospel are killed. Through crucifixion.).

The Good Shepherd offers his life for his sheep: in the Encyclical Ut Unum Sint, John Paul II noted that the service to humanity "can even demand from the very ministry of the Pope to offer his own life."

The children, the innocence: Vietnam, 1965.

The 377 Vietcong that I counted all around the perimeter of Camp Kannack were victims of war. During three days, from the 7th to the 10th of March, they had come to attack that camp of Green Berets. With the long, thin bamboo shoots used as poles, they leaped over the American barbed wire fencing and because around their necks, they wore garlands of activated hand grenades which exploded as soon as they hit the ground: flying through the air they opened passage ways in the camp's defense. The radio was broken, the Vietcong scrambled up already towards the conquest of the final ring of the camp. But then the radio was made to work, the Americans called for help from the Airforce and in exactly twenty minutes, low-flying bombs fell on their heads like discs launched by a possessed discus thrower and killed the Vietcong. I counted 377: spread out across the green sludge, the long black hair, their bodies the color of jade, alight with an infinite smile. They were poor dead, with their haversack of braided bamboo leaves, on their feet (old) pieces of rubber with the words Made in USSR. They loaded them on a truck, they were stripped at a center of body-collection and therefore dumped naked in a common grave. Falling in, two of them seemed to perform a geometric dance. Three hundred and seventy-seven green, burned kids, sent by cynic apprentices to die on the plateau of the Meo tribe.

The ascetic Russians said they were convinced that the face of a man "in good faith" shined with a light all of his own, which only the believer can perceive. "I like your face," said one of the brothers Karamazov to Alioscia, "the devil was afraid of you, my pure cherubim." Its therefore a face, not a dialectic that Dostoievski compares to atheism. A "face": the living of icon of Jesus Christ.

Il Che had an irregular face, like a cute, ironic cat. We had spoken for long hours, almost all night. It was in Havana on a tepid January day in 1961. God, I said to Che, who was dedicating his book to me on the popular guerrillas with an old fountain pen; God: do you believe, have you ever believed? He let the question cool for awhile, then he answered: "I never posed myself the problem of God: but at the same time, since I am a provincial Argentine, half Spanish and my mother brought me to Mass when I was a child, then if God exists, as my mother always repeated to me, if God exists, I say, I would like to think that in his great heart there is a place, a small one, for the commandante Ernesto Che Guevara." When he died at the hands of a drunk Bolivian sergeant, (maybe) il Che knew in that moment that for him, there was that small place.

"There exists a common measure between God and man and only this measure renders possible the revelation of God to man." "And this mysterious miracle can happen in any moment, whoever the man is, it doesn't matter what he had done up to the Revelation" (ct. V. Soloviev: Lecons sur la divino-humanite, Paris 1991).

Here's another memory: Port Said, 1956, the Suez Crisis. A group of journalists rented a boat to get to Port Said by sea, it was at the time occupied by British parachutists under General Stockwell. At the entrance to the port, they started shooting at us. One bullet pierced the forehead of an Egyptian woman, who had gotten a ride with us. She was with her child, and they wanted to get to the rest of the family. The bullet that pierced her forehead made the blood squirt out like it was coming out of a bottle. She was holding her child by the hand. We knew right away that for the women it was over. But the child looked like she was sleeping. But, when we touched her we knew she was dead. Even her. I don't know how. Maybe her small scared heart, gave way, just like sometimes the hearts of kittens gives up. It took us a while to untangle their clasped hands. Olive-like where the ones of the young mother, white as wax were the ones of the child.

I just wrote: Like sometimes the hearts of kittens give up, Bogota, 1959. I leave the hotel Tequendama, today its still the IN place in Colombia. While the porter worked himself up to whistle a taxi, I noticed a bundle of rags on the chic grass near the entrance. It was a stray child. He slept. When I got back at sunset, the child was still there. What is he doing, I asked the porter, is he still sleeping? He got closer to the stray child: and with the point of his foot, he delicately moved him. Just as you do with kittens. "No, he concluded, he isn't sleeping. He's dead." Dead? "Esactamente senor: de hambre" (the latest figures of FMI tells us that in the world, every eight seconds a child dies. Because of hunger).

Old and tired physically, but not in the mind, not Job, but John, the traveling Pope, much and more of Paul, he has gotten us used to discourses where often the evangelical message is braided with a political pronouncement. On November 13, 1996, at the FAO Conference, in Rome, after having observed that the emblem of the FAO is Fiat Panis, a phrase which is at the heart of prayer "more rich," the Our Father: "give us our daily bread," the Pope said the problem of hunger is not resolved with "demographic restrictions." While negating that "being numerous means condemning ourselves to poverty," he admitted that "the demographic growth cannot be unlimited." "With his intervention man can modify the situations and respond to the growing needs of the populations." They are often victims of "embargoes imposed without sufficient discernment," he candidly said, referring to Cuba and Iraq.

That's right, Iraq. February 15, 1991: on television in Amman the anchor cries. Showing on video the images of the massacre of the "not smart" bunker hit by an implacable "smart bomb. "It's a crime against humanity, they hit a hideout with hundreds of women and children. Stop the genocide," the anchor whimpers. It's the newscast of the evening, 19:00, the most watched in all of Jordan. The war without images, now has an ancient image: the death of the innocent. From New York, Furio Colombo, who I speak with often, tells me that the "smart bomb" guided by lasers, passed through two strata full of cement and steel and hit "with tragic exactness" the pre-established target, "full of women and children." In Baghdad, that diabolical perfect order killed the innocent, in America in triggered a new language to define the tragedy of the bunker: CD (collateral damage).

In Italy, you will not see the more atrocious segments of the film of human horrors. The petrified body of boy dying suddenly: the head thrown back, the mouth hanging open after the final scream of agony (and once again, as in any war, the logo of The Scream of Munch returns), the hands searching for the burning legs. And two hands of a woman, just two hands, floating, crossed, on the stomach, which has been substituted by blanket of carbon. (You predator of death, man," so did Elias Canetti say of the horror of the 1900"s, our century at the last shore, miserable, thanks to software, and internet).

It was the War of the Gulf: do you remember Desert storm?

That's were we started to lose our hearts, we of the illustrious Europe, blasphemous. Today the last bet of shame is called the Africa of the Great Lakes. Only 2,000 days are left to the Jubilee year. Without any soul, heedless, evil, the world waits caught between fear of punishment and the hope of forgiveness. But since God is good and his Son is merciful the Holy Spirit (maybe) will give us back the light and we will hear, finally, "a thin voice of silence" (I RE 19, 11-13) and then no more will the pollen of hate float in the air and we will finally take the children by hand. Instead of accompanying them to the cemetery, we will bring them to the gardens. To get an ice-cream.