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June 28, 2004
We awaken in North America to the news that Europe and the Middle East know already -- sovereignty has been handed over to the Iraqi government two days early. A disquieting blend of hope and dread fills me: what will happen now? The strong man Hussein held them together for decades; the artificial boundaries and the puppet kings of the British mandate held them precariously together between the wars and for a time after World War II. At every other time, though, when there has been no single strong man or no occupying government, "together" has not been the word that would leap to mind to describe Iraqi political life. And this will be like that, in some ways: nobody thinks our boys and girls will be marching home again anytime soon. South Korea is sovereign, and American troops have been there for more than fifty years.

What difference will two days make? Nobody knows. Forces that don't want the provisional government to work killed a hundred people over there the other day -- certainly the hope is that this sudden change will take the poisonous wind out of its sails. There's lots of poison in Iraq, though, so it would be premature to dance in the streets.

And what can we do from here, sitting at our computer terminals in our comfortable quiet houses, our office cubicles, our rectory studies? Those of us who have been intense in prayer for individual soldiers and civilians over there, Iraqi-Americans for members of their families back home? Those who have followed the news anxiously every morning, come to know the map of Iraq, learned who the players are there, strained to read between the lines of presidential speeches? And those who have done none of these things, who have been afraid to know, afraid of the fear knowing brings? I don't watch the news any more, they say, it just upsets me.

Let yourself get upset. It's an appropriate goal for a carefully arranged pile of apples in a supermarket not to get upset, but not for a human being. We must allow the pain of the world to touch us, or we will have no particular interest in its stopping. Don't be afraid, don't stop talking about it and don't stop knowing and praying. Turning to God is the answer to fear -- not because it smoothes out every wrinkle, but because it accompanies us into the frightening places we find we must go, out of love for those who are already there.
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