Peace on Earth – that’s what this season is all about.
Yet, we’ve witnessed from afar how in a matter of minutes Pakistani school children can be killed en masse by Taliban terrorists.
We wonder whether peace is an elusive idea that perhaps cannot be achieved on earth.
Our leaders raise their voices in hymns of hate. Words of killing, conquering, overcoming other peoples, fall too easily from the tips of tongues, untested in tasting words of peace, except to justify the wars they wage, preferring death and suffering instead, and often of the truly innocent, dismissed as the collaterally damaged.
It’s hopeful, therefore, when we can seize upon a peace overture that succeeds.
It shows that we are better than the mad impulse to war.
Pope Francis, 78, became Pontiff in March 2013. Almost from his first day in the Vatican, he worked in secrecy to enable President Barack Obama of the United States and President Raul Castro of Cuba to set aside past distrust and convene a dialogue for peace.
The United States has had a trade embargo imposed against Cuba that goes back 54 years, and that continued long after we normalized relations with both China and Vietnam.
Pope Francis encouraged the Presidents “to resolve humanitarian questions of common interest, including the situation of certain prisoners …” The Pope said he longed for “a new phase in relations between the two parties.”
About a year ago, at the funeral of Nelson Mandela, President Obama met briefly in public with the President of Cuba who was at the funeral. Plainly, with 20-20 hindsight, we can conclude that this public meeting was orchestrated in anticipation of the possible agreement they hoped they would reach.
Among the points of discussion were that both nations had seized nationals of the other nation, and accused them of misconduct.
The United States had seized three Cuban spies; Cuba seized one of our intelligence agents 20 years ago; an American, Alan P. Gross, was imprisoned in Cuba in 2009 on a 15 year sentence; we claimed that 53 Cuban prisoners were political.
As a result of the recent agreement between Cuba and the United States, these persons have been released by the nation states holding them, both by Cuba and by the United States.
We had no diplomatic relations with Cuba, but now we shall have a U.S. Embassy in Havana, and Cuba will be represented in the United States.
Travel restrictions will ease, same for restrictions on banking, financial transactions, and imports.
President Barack Obama reportedly said, “These 50 years have shown that isolation has not worked.”
President Raul Castro said, “The progress made in our exchanges proves that it is possible to find solutions to many problems.”
Work remains to address the embargo.
Early returns from the Congress, however, have the Republican leadership in both houses resisting normalization, and several Democrats object as well.
Old habits die hard, to prefer conflict over possible compromise, even when it can mean peace.
After Alan Gross was released from custody, when President Obama was asked for his reaction, he said, “[Alan’s] back where he belongs in America with his family home for Hanukkah.”
Peace on earth!
We have enjoyed a taste of seasonal peace on earth. In the bargain, we have found hope we can have even more peace and less conflict.
But these three wise peace-makers have taught us something else, that is, that no peace comes easily, it doesn’t happen by itself, and it is going to take some hard work — to make peace anywhere else on earth.