Freedom isn't free

After the prayer service at the Shrine of St. Joseph in Northern New Jersey on the eve of Sept. 11, and then speaking to a gathering of Legatus, a group of Catholic business leaders, a family member of one of the people killed in the nearby World Trade Towers in New York City 13 years ago, came up to me and said, "Ambassador, I was moved by what you told us about all the chaos and violence taking place today in the Middle East. As you know, this community lost a lot of neighbors, friends and family members in the terrorist attack. Let me ask you, is there a willingness on the part of the American government to take decisive action to stop all the brutality taking place in the Middle East and world today? Or is this the way it will always be? People are constantly living in fear. If the International Community can't come together on this and do something, what hope do we really have that all this carnage and violence can end? You served in our national government and in the highest diplomatic post at the Vatican, why can't we do something, like President Reagan and Pope John II did in Poland and Eastern Europe? I know that you were friends and spoke to both of them often. They helped end the brutality and oppression of communism. Are things so different today in the world? Where is the spine of our political leaders? Why is the national press so timid in reporting on this atrocity?"

Well, that would not be the last time I was asked that very same question. The next day in Fort Lauderdale, Fla., speaking to business leaders, I was asked almost that same question by a political official. "Ray, I heard you on Sirius Catholic radio today. You said that there was a disconnect between elected officials and religious leaders, and this division inhibits them from working together for peace and the common good. Are things so hopeless that nobody can do anything about the beheading and torture of Catholics in the Middle East?"

I fumbled around trying to give an intelligent answer to this critical question which is on the minds of many people throughout the country and I assume throughout the world. But it wasn't until I returned home to Boston on Saturday night that I was able to begin to figure out how to answer that challenging question of why there is so much division and hatred in our society and world today. Yes, we've always had wars and chaos, but after listening to a lot of people, I concluded that what's happening today in the Middle East, if not stopped, will be just as brutal and devastating. Today, it's really a war against one's values and religious beliefs. Yes, the world has faced major challenges in the past, but as history has taught us, it always seemed like there was a unified willingness of people and organizations of good will to come together and collectively engage in a justifiable defense of human rights and the persecution of innocent people. It almost seems like that it is an impossible objective in the world today.

On Sept. 13, after receiving a lifetime achievement award from the Vietnamese community at the VietAID 20th Anniversary Gala held at the IBEW Hall in Boston, I told the large audience that I'm reminded of the struggles that the Vietnamese people and other immigrant groups had to endure in their native country; but overcoming those struggles, they came to the United States and raised strong families, practiced their faith and helped build strong and stable neighborhoods. I also said that America's government is essential in establishing peace in the world and that we must continue to pray and work daily for human rights, for the dignity of all people, and for the respect of law.

But Sunday would also turn out to be just as inspirational. At the Memorial Mass for the 25 South Boston veterans who were killed during the Vietnam War, Father Robert Casey of St. Brigid Church reminded us of the special qualities and values that we all have and how grateful we are for our Catholic faith and love for one another.

At the 33rd commemorative service following the Mass, organized by Tom Lyons and Jerry Turner, Congressman Stephen Lynch delivered a moving tribute to the sacrifices of our fallen South Boston comrades and praised their sacrifices. Mayor Martin Walsh struck a similar theme.

So why the disconnect between President Obama and the American people?

I would have to say that the events of those days, from the Sept. 11 services in New York and New Jersey, to South Florida and back home to Boston, made me feel both proud to say that I am American and a Catholic who lives in the greatest country in the world; but also that freedom is not free. It comes with a price. And that there is evil in the world that cannot be ignored. Concerned people of hope and love have a job to do.

Be informed about politics and events. Get involved. Write and call your elected officials and let them know how you feel. Contact the media, but also pray for the end of all the violence and killing in the world.

We must never forget America's commitment to freedom and our Catholic faith's love for justice.

Ray Flynn is the former Mayor of Boston and U.S. Ambassador to the Vatican.

- Raymond L. Flynn is the former U.S. Ambassador to the Holy See and Mayor of Boston.