That is what popes are intended to do — they are to represent Christ, the Prince of Peace, in a world that is and has always been a maelstrom of passions, conflict, and wars. Popes have sometimes been warlike, but that ill becomes their office, and nearly always causes lasting repugnance.
That is why in 2003 many Americans who believed that the war in Iraq was justified, also believed that it was very good for Pope John Paul II to oppose the war. The pope should not be, and should not even be allowed to seem to be, a proponent of war, especially of a war with so many complex religious tendrils, and with so many centuries of conflicted history. It was right and just for Pope John Paul II to oppose the war. The role and munus (office, burden, duty) of the presidents of nations are different. Presidents must make a probable judgment about the long-run implications both of inaction and action, and about what in the long run will have been the most creative path for them to have taken. These are excruciating judgments, for they usually involve long-run costs, discouragements, and difficulties. Many of us of a certain age remember the long sacrifices and costs of World War II.
This background is important to grasp, since Pope Benedict XVI will almost certainly judge that he is duty-bound to call for the violence in Iraq to cease. The edge of his words will be felt more sharply here, where he delivers them, than among Al Sadr and his Shia militias, who are now causing so much of the violence in three cities in Iraq. The Shiites militias very much want the Americans will stop fighting, and to depart.
The pope may also continue saying, as he has often in the last year, that the religious freedom and dignity of every person in Iraq must be protected, and minority populations (in this case, one of the oldest continuous Christian communities in the world) must be especially respected. He may repeat his deep conviction that violence is contrary to the nature of God.
Benedict XVI may also wish the future of democracy and the rule of law in Iraq to flower fully, and to be long-lasting. He may express the hope that these will bear good fruit for justice and human dignity throughout the Middle East, and all around the world.
The pope is not primarily a political player, and yet the cultural and moral power of his words and actions may this week well have long political consequences. On the record, we are entitled to have confidence in Benedict’s bravery, balance of mind, and concern to do his duty.