Amid nuclear fears, remember a pope once helped avert Armageddon via Crux

Though comparisons with North Korea’s threat to fire ballistic missiles near Guam and the Cuban Missile Crisis may be premature, the anxiety level is undeniable. The situation evokes memories of a pope in many ways cut from the same cloth as Francis, St. John XXIII, who helped prevent a nuclear war with a timely and passionate appeal for peace.

In lots of ways, it’s probably premature to start crafting comparisons between the danger posed by North Korea’s threat to test-fire four ballistic missiles off the coast of Guam, coupled with U.S. President Donald Trump’s stern response, and the terror that gripped the world in October 1962 amid the Cuban Missile Crisis.

Back then, it wasn’t just one remote U.S. island territory in the firing line. If the Soviets and the Americans had launched an all-out nuclear war over Cuba, the entire planet would have been at risk.

Today, Guam is striking a sober but unpanicked stance. The island’s Governor, Eddie Calvo, has said the island is well-protected, including a THAAD missile defense system specifically designed to shoot down the kind of missiles possessed by North Korean dictator Kim Jong Un.

Further, island residents are long accustomed to blustery rhetoric from North Korea, and so far don’t seem unduly alarmed. Nevertheless, pastors in this overwhelmingly Catholic nation are trying to offer spiritual comfort.

In a statement released Wednesday, the Archdiocese of Agana in Guam urged faithful to “look to God in these difficult times.”

“Following the national news reports that North Korea has threatened to strike our island with missiles, the Archdiocese of Agana reminds everyone to stay grounded in the peace of Christ,” the statement said.


On Oct. 22, Kennedy went on U.S. television to announce that any missile fired from Cuba would trigger a full retaliatory response upon the Soviet Union, and that the U.S. was imposing a naval blockade on Soviet shipments. On Oct. 24, Khrushchev warned that such an act of “outright piracy” by the U.S. would lead to war.

That was the global situation when John XXIII took to Vatican Radio on Thursday, Oct. 25, 1962, speaking in French, the language of international diplomacy, to issue a passionate appeal for peace.


“On the Russian side, we know that there were contacts with Pope John XXIII just before this broadcast,” Tanner said. “We know later that Khrushchev publicly acknowledged his gratitude and debt to John XXIII for, as it were, letting him off the hook, giving him a reason for withdrawing.”

By the time John XXIII made that broadcast, he already knew he was a dying man. Two months later, still haunted by the near-miss of a nuclear war, he issued his final encyclical, Pacem in Terris, making the case for peace as his last testament to the world.


Cut from the same cloth as John XXIII in so many ways, Pope Francis has already issued several eerily similar appeals for peace, including warning in April that a nuclear war triggered by the North Korean standoff would destroy “a good part of humanity, and of culture, everything, everything.”

No doubt he’ll continue to do so, perhaps as early as today in his Sunday Angelus address.

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