October 4th is the Feast of Saint Francis of Assisi. On October 4, 1965 Pope Paul VI visited the United States and spoke at the United Nations calling for an end to the rage of war. Pope Paul: “War, never again. Never again war!” This was the first time a Pope set foot on the soil of the USA.
At noon on October 4th Pope Paul called on President Johnson at the Waldorf Astoria. They spent an hour together. Many of Johnson’s advisors urged him to seek the help of Paul VI in brokering a negotiated end to the Vietnam War. Johnson was stubborn and would not enlist the Pope’s assistance. Pope Paul warned LBJ that time was running out.
In preparation for the meeting between LBJ and Pope Paul, Jack Valenti – advisor to LBJ and speaking for many in the administration – sent the following memo to the President.
“The facts seem to be: Viet Nam is almost an un-solvable problem. The risks are too great for any President to long endure.”
“The possibility of a catastrophic conflict in Southeast Asia grows each day.”
“It isn’t enough NOT to want war there—events, mistakes, and pride that causes reaction to an action are enough to start the explosion. After that, the deluge.”
The memo’s author finishes with a rationale for the Pope’s involvement:
“The really pointed question is HOW to get this mess to the United Nations without losing face, without giving ground on our basic policies, and finding these same answers for the North Vietnamese.
“One answer: The Pope.
“He is the only respected figure in the world, the only voice that could be raised to which heed could be given without giving up face.”
By March 31, 1968 the Vietnam situation was truly “un-solvable”. LBJ announced that we would not run for re-election and would devote his time and energy to beginning the peace process, which began in May of 1968.
On the Feast of Saint Francis, we might also remember Saint Paul VI – the 20th century Pope of Peace.
Father Steve Adrian