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American Justice and Divine Mercy

With guests in town since Holy Thursday, we had done the liturgical marathon of the papal Triduum, including the Eucharistic adoration pilgrimage, and on Easter Monday set out for Florence. We stayed there a couple of nights, then to Assisi for a couple nights, and returned to Rome on Friday along with growing crowds of pilgrims and tourists: Little time to prepare for the next spiritual marathon, with the events surrounding the beatification of Pope John Paul II.

To give a sense of it, I left the Lay Centre at 11:00am Saturday morning, and returned for only an hour-long nap and a shower before really returning at 11:30pm Sunday night. I then had to be at the Angelicum by 9:00am Monday. My voice disappeared last night and is yet to be seen or heard. I made up for all this with a four-hour nap this afternoon.  (I am collecting stories from other students in the Lay Centre and around Rome, and am typing up my own for a post soon to come. )

This morning, while showing Professor Israel Knohl around the University, we passed a classroom where we heard applause – I assumed a seminar presentation had just finished. The only words I heard come out through the window were, “President Obama…”

“That’s funny,” I chuckled (sotto voce) to Professor Knohl, “You do not expect to hear the U.S. president’s name in a Roman university classroom – that is a first for me!”

“Ah, because of Osama.” Then, in response to my questioning look, “They got him last night. They killed him.”

And that is how I found out about American justice being served on the Sunday called Divine Mercy by the pope who was being beatified on that very day.

I had not had time to check news or mail much in the last dozen days, and none at all in the last 48 hours.

My first reaction was that the timing is interesting. As I said above, American justice served out on Divine Mercy Sunday; The coincidence of three news events, each treated in order of growing importance – the royal wedding, beatification, and killing of bin Laden all on one weekend; the fact that the day before, my guests (whose time in rome seems to have coincided exactly with the final stages of presidential preparation to go into the compound) and I having just had a conversation about how we have heard nothing from or about Osama bin Laden in months. Also interesting given that JPII and the Catholic Church were so clearly opposed to the second Iraq War, a point made during the Vigil on Saturday night.

While some friends and classmates began to celebrate (there was applause in the Angelicum remember, and I know of a priest who publicly stated it was good to celebrate Osama’s death), I kept thinking that our CIA and SEALs did exactly what they are trained to do – and what they are deservedly respected for – executing with extreme prejudice. They served justice, but there was no room for mercy, whether that was the intended result or not (and until we hear otherwise, I assume that it was the intent to capture if possible – but the worry that it was not remains).

I am glad it is over, but do not rejoice in the killing of a man, no matter how heinous his actions or warped his view of the world and of his own faith. He was no more a Muslim than Hitler was a Christian, because he did not submit to God. On that i am certain, though i claim no great expertise in Islam. I wonder what divine mercy is like for one such as he? (What is divine mercy like for one such as me?)

Incidentally, as far as I am aware, the preference for Muslims is to buried in the ground, but burial at sea is allowed for various reasons, including fear of desecration of the body – which would seem to be a reasonable fear in this instance – so the choice made was respectful of Islamic practice (even if bin Laden himself was certainly not!)

This afternoon, Fr. Federico Lombardi, S.J., released the following declaration on the news regarding the death of Osama Bin Laden:

  “Osama Bin Laden, as is known, claimed responsibility for grave acts that spread division and hate among the peoples, manipulating religion to that end. A Christian never takes pleasure from the fact of a man’s death, but sees it as an opportunity to reflect on each person’s responsibility, before God and humanity, and to hope and commit oneself to seeing that no event become another occasion to disseminate hate but rather to foster peace”.

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