Father Eugene Hemrick

Fear suddenly gripped me as I viewed Washington, D.C.’s National Archives exhibit on the 1962 Cuban missile crisis. I lived through it but never realized that planes carrying nuclear bombs were airborne, and our submarines and silos were prepared to launch nuclear warheads. It led me to think, “How can a nuclear holocaust be avoided?”

One place we might start is history. We need to meditate on the horrors of the past as a means of instilling in us the dreadfulness of a nuclear war. History reveals wars causing the random killing of innocent civilians, total devastation of cities and destitution lasting years. Although a nation may rebuild, its psyche never fully recovers.

History needs to be revisited to learn of the virtues practiced that maintained peace. One of those lessons teaches that heartfelt dialogue possesses enormous powers for keeping harmony. We can only wonder what would have happened had not U.S. President John F. Kennedy and Soviet Secretary General Nikita Khrushchev stayed in dialogue during the missile crisis.

In his encyclical “Ecclesiam Suam,” Pope Paul VI gives us a wonderful summation of the essential qualities of dialogue.

First, language must be clear. Nothing could be more important in our world of differing cultures and languages. Ambiguous, poorly chosen words thrown out carelessly can create a riot. For dialogue to succeed, words need to be clarified repeatedly, re-examined so they do not offend and re-crafted until they resonate with the intended audience.

Dialogue requires kindness. This does not imply the lack of prudence; rather it encourages those going to the bargaining table to be well-disposed toward one another, desiring the common good.

Dialogue implores us to put those involved in the conversation in the place of the other person. This implies studying the particular traditions of a nation and what its population is presently undergoing. Also implied is visiting and experiencing a nation firsthand.

Love is the heart of dialogue. Its essential qualities translate into a spirit of forgiveness and avoiding hardness of heart, exhausting all means possible for keeping peace, preferring a joyful disposition to a warlike demeanor and practicing a spirit of beneficence for the benefit of the common good.

As much as military and economic strength help to keep the peace, our most powerful means for accomplishing peace is a loving heart.