Pope Recalls His Own Experience of Tragedy of War

Urges Prayer and Penance to End Iraqi Crisis

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VATICAN CITY, MARCH 16, 2003 (Zenit.org).- John Paul II surprised pilgrims when he publicly recalled his own experience of war in explaining his opposition to military intervention in Iraq.



"I belong to that generation that lived through World War II and, thanks be to God, survived it," the Pope said, after praying the midday Angelus with the crowds gathered today in St. Peter's Square.

"I have the duty to say to all young people, to those who are younger than me, who have not had this experience: 'No more war!' as Paul VI said during his first visit to the United Nations," he added.

"We must do everything possible. We know well that peace is not possible at any cost. But we all know how great this responsibility is -- therefore, prayer and penance!" he exclaimed.

Gian Franco Svidercoschi, one of the journalists who knows the Holy Father best, and who is the author of "Stories of Karol: The Unknown Life of John Paul II" (Liguori, 2003), explained to ZENIT the context of the Pope's historical reflection.

"During the years of that conflict, the Pope was acquainted with the worst horrors of the 20th century, the two totalitarianisms that tried to kill man and his soul," Svidercoschi said. "And I think that that is why he has a particular credibility when he speaks of peace."

"During the Nazi occupation he made a choice: He participated in his homeland's survival by becoming part of the 'Unia' [Union], a Polish clandestine association," the journalist recalled.

"There were several branches in this movement: One was for armed struggle, another was for cultural clandestine resistance and assistance to Jews," added Svidercoschi, who has been a Vatican correspondent since 1959.

"Karol Wojtyla chose the second, in particular, because of the clandestine theater," he said. "He engaged in resistance with peace. If he had been discovered doing theater, he would have been confined in an extermination camp.

"He understood the difficult choice of his friends who fought for peace, but he made a different choice. Hence, he is not a pacifist but a man of peace."

The Pope recalls in his book "Gift and Mystery" that one of the first Masses he ever celebrated was in Wawel Cathedral in Krakow, for his friends in the Unia resistance and the rhapsodic theater. John Paul II wrote the book in response to questions asked by Svidercoschi.