We are a group of Roman Catholics who met with President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad of Iran on Sept. 26, 2007 in New York City during an interfaith gathering of religious leaders from North America organized by the Mennonite Central Committee. We met with President Ahmadinejad in part because we are deeply concerned about a potential American military attack on Iran. We fear that the prospect of war with Iran is increasingly likely. The unsavory reception that the President of Iran received in New York City demonized not only him personally but also the people of Iran. While we recognize that President Ahmadinejad’s own words and actions have exacerbated this confrontation with Washington, we are convinced that dialogue rather than war is the only rational course. Therefore, we issue an urgent call to tone down the rhetoric concerning Iran and to engage in a positive campaign of understanding, communication, and common action based on common interests.
Our meeting with President Ahmadinejad was respectful and courteous. We listened to him and he to us; we engaged in a frank exchange of topics that both unite us and divide us including the very difficult issues around the Holocaust, human rights and the Iranian nuclear program. We pledged to continue our frank but polite conversations and President Ahmadinejad welcomed this effort and pledged to continue this dialogue. We recognize that meetings such as ours with the President of Iran cannot possibly resolve important differences between the people of Iran and the United States but they are a beginning. They set us on the road to peace and honesty. They challenge us to stay the course to peace and we pledge to do precisely that.
As Catholic Christians we follow the call of the prophet Isaiah to beat “swords into plowshares” and “spears into pruning hooks.” We accept the challenge of Jesus in the Sermon on the Mount to “Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you.” But love for others involves neither passivity nor the acceptance of the status quo. An active love for others resists evil deeds in a nonviolent manner and this alone can result in justice and reconciliation. During these troubled times in which war between the United States and Iran could break out at any moment, we are inspired by our Pope and the Bishops of the United States in their call for negotiations and dialogue rather than war as the only secure path to peace in our world. We recall the words of Blessed Pope John XXIII in his encyclical Peace on Earth, “There is reason to hope…that by meeting and negotiating, [people] may come to discover better the bonds that unite them…”
We call on all Catholics to urge the United States government to pursue every path possible to resolve the differences between Iran and the United States in a peaceful manner. We urge reliance on the United Nations; the use of mediation and arbitration; increased trade, intellectual, artistic, and athletic exchanges; formal and informal communication between religious leaders; and citizen and student exchanges as the only authentic path to peace between our two great nations. Peace is possible. Indeed it is the only way.