It is time for a comprehensive strategy to address a genocide that is happening now. This is a historic opportunity for peace. Photo opportunities and speeches will not achieve anything.
The news today that Pope Francis will meet with President Obama at the White House this coming September, got my phone ringing, with calls from the national media with a lot of questions about what popes and presidents talk about when they get together, and even what they should talk about.
But the one question which really caught my attention came from a savvy political journalist who asked me, "Ambassador, you certainly have had some experience in the area of politics and religion. Is the meeting a big photo opportunity? Does it really matter what they talk about? Politicians have lost their relevance in the United States and people don't pay much attention to religion in the world."
A rather cynical attitude, I thought, but one that merits a well-thought-out response.
I will agree that political and religious leaders haven't been very successful in stopping any of the violence and bloodshed in the world. If you believe that peace should be the highest priority for world leaders, then they have not done a very good job -- but neither has the international media in reporting it.
We were told that "genocide" was the systematic extermination of people because of their race, religion or ethnicity, and that it is a crime against humanity. This is exactly what is happening to Catholics in several parts of the world at the hands of Islamic fanatics, yet moral and political leaders can't seem to do a thing about it, except talk about it once in a while.
Well, two of the world's most important leaders will be in the White House in September. The pope will also address Congress and the United Nations. It is time to specifically address this crisis. And not just with speeches or photo-ops. It is time for a comprehensive strategy to address a genocide that is happening now. This is a historic opportunity for peace. Photo opportunities and speeches will not achieve anything.
If it means putting international troops on the ground, so be it. The pope has already signaled his support for military action to defend Christians in Syria and Iraq. Jews are being persecuted as well. The September papal-presidential summit could be the scene of a historic and unprecedented announcement.
I would suggest inviting other world leaders to take part. Public support is on the side for peace, but we need leadership to demand it.
Now that would be a photo opportunity -- President Obama and Pope Francis, surrounded by world political and diverse religious leaders, with a concrete plan to combat genocide.
Then maybe the world can begin to once again talk about the relevance of politicians and religious leaders.
Ray Flynn is the former U.S. Ambassador to the Vatican and Mayor of Boston.
Raymond L. Flynn is the former U.S. Ambassador to the Holy See and Mayor of Boston.
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