As the people of Norway come to grips with the tragedy that has struck their peaceful nation last Friday, and as the world reels in shock at the work of a deranged man who murdered at least 93 people, many of them young people, Pope Benedict XVI during his Angelus address on Sunday offered his "fervent prayers for the victims and families, invoking God's peace upon the dead and divine consolation upon those who suffer." [singlepic id=54 w=320 h=240 float=right]
"At this time of national grief the Holy Father prays that all Norwegians will be spiritually united in a determined resolve to reject the ways of hatred and conflict and to work together fearlessly in shaping a future of mutual respect, solidarity and freedom from for coming generations," according to the statement released by Vatican Secretary of State, Cardinal Tarcisio Bertone, on behalf of the pope.
The world has watched the story unfold in horror--the workers in a Government building who perished through the severe bomb explosion, and scores of young people at an island camp off the shore of Oslo. I celebrated mass on Sunday for all those who died in such a senseless act of terror. I also recalled with deep gratitude the Norwegian delegation of young people who took part in World Youth Day 2002 in Toronto.
The Oslo Channel
Norway and its people are known for their efforts for peace and justice. While I was still stationed in Jerusalem during my graduate studies in Sacred Scripture (1990-1994), on September 13, 1993, Israel and the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO) signed a declaration of principles that intended to enable Palestinians and Israelis to live a common economic goal. It was an historic ceremony on the White House lawn that was a turning point, offering the world a ray of hope in the midst of decades of bloodshed and hostility. That turning point, symbolized by the famous handshake between Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin and PLO Chairman Yasser Arafat, culminated 18 months of unconventional secret talks staged in Oslo hotels and country homes. Five Norwegians created an atmosphere of informality in which negotiators could come to know and trust each other. This secret "back door to peace" proved a successful alternative to the stalemate of official negotiations and an inspirational model of what is possible when individuals act for peace. The world was captivated by this “secret channel” of peace.
The two sides were brought together in 1992 through connections developed by researchers for the Institute of Applied Social Science (FAFO) studying living conditions in the Occupied Territories. FAFO Director-General Terje Rød Larsen offered to facilitate secret contacts between Israeli and PLO representatives. His offer was soon accepted, bolstered by the Norwegians' reputation for evenhandedness and their historical involvement in the Middle East. At the start, the talks were exploratory. But by April 1993, the negotiating team changed when Israel authorized official talks facilitated by Norway. Discussions intensified and became more focused and more up-front, yet still remaining secret. Because Israeli law forbade communication with the PLO, Norwegians served as go-betweens, representing the two sides to each other, often conveying responses by telephone. The Norwegians explored ways to build trust and common ground between the negotiators and cultivated basic human connections. The Norway team consisted of Larsen and his wife, Mona Juul, a department chief at the Norwegian foreign ministry; Jan Egeland, state secretary in the Royal Norwegian Ministry of Foreign Affairs; and Norwegian Foreign Minister Johan Jørgen Holst and his wife, Marianne Heiberg, a FAFO researcher who conducted the study of the West Bank and Gaza Strip.
The Holst's country home in Smestad was the site for some of the talks, with others at the Borregaard estate mansion east of Oslo and the Oslo Plaza Hotel. The Oslo Channel was marked by warmth, conviviality, and spontaneity. The negotiators ate together, lived together, and even played together on the living room floor with Holst's 4-year-old son, Edvard. Holst said: "We tried to deal with one of the most complicated conflicts in modem human history by creating a human framework within which to deal with the issues."
After the signing in Washington, D.C., Norwegians continued working with the two sides to finalize the agreement, which now grants limited Palestinian autonomy in Gaza and the West Bank town of Jericho, marking a watershed in the history of Israel's 27 year military occupation of land where nearly 1 million Arabs live.
Praying for Norway
[singlepic id=53 w=320 h=240 float=left]During my final months of my graduate studies in Jerusalem in 1994, and because of my work with several projects in the Palestinian West Bank, I was invited by my friend, the late Madame Dominique de Menil of Houston, and former US President Jimmy Carter, to travel to Oslo, Norway to the Awards Ceremony of the Carter-Menil Human Rights Foundation that honored the people of Norway for their historic role in the Middle East peace process. President Carter and Madame de Menil would honor the government and people of Norway for their efforts in bringing about justice and peace in the Middle East, especially in Israel and Palestine.
Madame de Menil and President Carter invited me to offer the prayer for the ceremony that took place on a hill overlooking the fjord on May 18, 1994. It was a magnificent event that I shall never forget. I wrote the prayer while in Jerusalem and had a Norwegian diplomat in Israel teach me how to pronounce it in the language of Norway. I prayed the prayer in both languages. I remember vividly being with Jimmy Carter, Madame de Menil, Shimon Peres, Yasser Arafat, and the entire Norwegian team of diplomats who worked so hard in the preceding years to help broker peace. That prayer is printed below in both languages.
Prayer for the Awards Ceremony — Oslo, Norway
Wednesday May 18, 1994
We gather together in this city of peace to give thanks
for the hopes for peace in the Holy Lands
that were born here among the Norwegian people.
We thank you for all the courageous women and men
from this land and from Israel and Palestine
who dreamed big dreams and have dared
to make them become a reality in the lands we call holy.
Bless the people of Norway with wisdom and truth.
Bless the people of Israel with fidelity to your Word and enduring Shalom.
Bless the people of Palestine with lasting justice and endless Salaam.
Bless us who have come from many peoples and places,
and give us the desire to always seek justice and peace wherever we are.
Let us be large in thought, in word, in deed.
Grant that we may realize that it is the little things
that create differences; that in the big things of life we are as one,
and may we strive to touch and know
the great common human heart of us all. Amen.
Vi samles i denne fredsbyen for a gi deg takk for det håp for fred
i de Hellige Land som ble født her blant det norske folk.
Vi takker deg for alle de modige kvinner og menn
fra dette landet og fra Israel og Palestina
som drømte store drømmer og har våget å gjøre dem
til virkelighet i de landene vi kaller hellige.
Velsign det norske folk med visdom og sannhet.
Velsign det israelske folk med Shalom uten ende.
Velsign det palestinske folk med varig rettferdighed og evig Salaam.
Velsign oss som har kommet fra mange folk og steder, og gi oss ønske
og vilje til alltid å søke rettferdighet og fred hvor vi enn er.
La oss være romslige i tanker, ord og gjerniger.
Gi at vi må skjønne at det er de små ting som skaper forskjeller
i at i de store tingene i livet er vi ett.
Og må vi streve etter å berøre og kjenne det store,
felles menneskehjertet vi alle deler. Amen.
As the world mourns the loss of so many innocent lives through such senseless violence and evil, let us pray for the people of Norway, especially those who mourn the loss of their loved ones, their children, their parents, colleagues and friends. In the past, the Norwegian leaders “tried to deal with one of the most complicated conflicts in modem human history by creating a human framework within which to deal with the issues."
May the Lord bless them at this tragic moment in their national history, and help them to never forget those human frameworks of goodness, hospitality, love, justice and peace which have been hallmarks of the Norwegian people for so long.
Fr. Thomas Rosica, CSB
CEO, Salt and Light Catholic Media Foundation