The island of Guam, an American territory in the Pacific, is in the news again. Well known for its part in World War II – when it was occupied by the Japanese, and later liberated at considerable cost by the Americans in July and August 1944 – the island is now in the crosshairs of the North Koreans.
At present the threat to Guam by the ever-belligerent North Korean regime has only been expressed in words. Nevertheless it should be taken seriously, given North Korea’s military capability and its ability to spark a nuclear war. Moreover, North Korea is, unlike any other state, seemingly immune to diplomatic overtures.
The people of Guam are familiar with war, for the Battle of Guam saw the deaths of more than 18,000 Japanese soldiers, who fought to the bitter end rather than surrender. Guam’s residents are also overwhelmingly Catholic, for the island was, until 1898, a Spanish colony, an important stopping off point for the galleons plying their way between Mexico and the Philippines. The first cathedral was founded a year after the Spanish arrived, in 1669, and is dedicated to El Dulce Nombre de María (The Sweet Name of Mary).
So far there have been no reports of panic on the island, despite the threats from Pyongyang. Rather, the reaction has been to pray for peace in the world. Archbishop Michael Byrnes has spoken of praying for a “just resolution of differences, and prudence in both speech and action”. How wise those words are! In an age when so many speak before they think, and where so many assume that religion stokes wars and hatred, it is good to hear the perennial message of the Church, dwelling as it does on rationality and moderation in all things. In addition Guamanians have been turning in prayer to their patroness, and saying the rosary for peace.
Those in Guam are giving the world a lesson. Calm under threat, and having known the horrors of war, devoted to peace, they show us the Catholic response to international tensions and war-mongering.
No one, in Pyongyang or elsewhere, should use the threat of war as an instrument of policy, and we should all be quick to rebuke those who do. As Blessed Paul VI said, when addressing the United Nations in October 1965: “It is enough to recall that the blood of millions, countless unheard-of sufferings, useless massacres and frightening ruins have sanctioned the agreement that unites you with an oath that ought to change the future history of the world: never again war, never again war!”
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