– Fausto Gomez OP
Since 1968, on the first day of every year, Christians around the world celebrate the World Day of Peace. Pope Paul VI established the yearly celebration on January 1, 1968: “We address ourself to all men of good will to exhort them to celebrate ‘The Day of Peace,’ throughout the world, on the first day of the year, January 1, 1968. It is our desire that, then, every year this commemoration be repeated as a hope and as a promise, at the beginning of the calendar which measures and outlines the path of human life in time, that Peace with its just and beneficent equilibrium may dominate the development of events to come.” From 1968 onward, the yearly papal message is an important text of the continuing development of the Social Doctrine of the Church, of Christian social ethics.
For the first day of 2020, Pope Francis has issued the Peace Message for the 53rd World Day of Peace entitled: Peace as a Journey of Hope: Dialogue, Reconciliation and Ecological Conversion. I wish to present this papal message and reflect upon it. (I leave Pope Francis’ teaching on ecological conversion, number 4 of the 2020 Peace Message, for another column)
The 53rd Peace Message is short (five numbers in six pages), simple, and meaty. As usual the main sources (in 12 references) are the Bible, which is cited often, Pope Francis’ own previous teachings on the matter (5 times), with quotes from Vatican II (1, Gaudium et Spes), Popes Paul VI (2, Octogesima Adveniens and Populorum Progressio) and Benedict XVI (3, Spe Salvi, Caritas in Veritate and Address to Italian Christian Workers) – and St. John of the Cross (1, Noche Oscura).
PEACE IS HOPEFULLY POSSIBLE IN SPITE OF GRAVE OBSTACLES
Pope St John XXIII started his great Encyclical Pacem in Terris (Peace on Earth) with these words: “All men of every age have most eagerly yearned for peace on earth…. The desire for peace lies deep in the human heart.” Continuing the difficult but always hopeful journey towards peace, Pope Francis begins his message thus: “Peace is a great precious value, the object of our hope and the aspiration of the entire human family” (Peace Message, January 1, 2020, no. 1). Working for peace requires in all of us an attitude of hope, which is the virtue “that inspires us and keeps us moving forward.” Moving forward in hope entails acknowledging and facing obstacles to peace that may seem “insurmountable.”
We all know well the great obstacles to peace today: wars, hatred, violence, exploitation, corruption, exclusion, injustice, social inequalities, nuclear deterrence… Poignant words from Pope Francis: “Peace and international stability are incompatible with attempts to build upon the fear of mutual destruction or the threat of total annihilation” (Message, 1). As previous peace messages, this one for 2020 underlines sadly ongoing devastating wars: “Every war is a form of fratricide that destroys the human family’s innate vocation to brotherhood” (Ibid, 1). I remember the 1982 Peace Message of Pope St. John Paul II: “War is the most barbarous and least effective way of resolving conflicts.”
Many of the obstacles to peace are grounded on “a perversion” of relationships,” on “poisoned” relationships, on human relationships based on hatred, selfishness, disordered fear of others. Hence, the urgent need to build good relationships among peoples and nations: relationships based on justice and manifested in love. Indeed, may I add, peace is living together in justice and solidarity – in brotherhood.
HOPEFUL PATH TO PEACE: INTEGRAL RECONCILIATION
The journey to peace is a journey of hope through reconciliation. The good habit or virtue of hope inclines us towards a just and fraternal future, and reminds us of negative lessons from past horrible experiences, which we should never forget – not to repeat them! Certainly, “memory is the horizon of hope” (Message, 1 and 2).
Reconciliation is a hopeful dynamic process towards peace. It means going back to conciliation, to harmony, to justice and solidarity. It signifies renewing our relationships within ourselves (personal peace), with others (social peace) and with creation (ecological peace), and above all – for most people of the world, for believers –, reestablishing the relationship with our merciful God through sorrow and forgiveness. Full reconciliation requires working for justice, for the common good, for equality in fraternal solidarity – in “compassion and creative solidarity” (Message, 2).
The dynamic process of reconciliation requires developing “a culture of fraternal encounter that shatters the culture of conflict” (Message, 5). Peace cannot be truly achieved “without a convinced dialogue between men and women who seek the truth beyond ideologies and differing opinions” (Ibid, 2). It demands respect as an antidote against vengeance, and true and fraternal dialogue: listening to the other who is our equal in dignity and rights; respecting justice, truth and the communion of the human family; and “constant pursuit of the common good, truthfulness and respect for law.”
GUIDE OF CHRISTIAN HOPEFUL FAITH TO GENUINE PEACE
Following the pertinent teachings of Sacred Scriptures and Christian Tradition, the Church is committed to transmit and witness human and evangelical values, such as respect, justice, truthfulness, solidarity and fraternity, the common good, compassion and prayerfulness. Above all, just and merciful love, that is, God’s love in us which is the primary personal, and social value (cf. Message, 5). The community of Disciples of Jesus Christ appeals to “the peoples’ moral conscience and to personal and political will” (Message, 2). Pope Francis writes: “In a state based on law, democracy can be an important paradigm of the process, provided it is grounded on justice and a commitment to protect the rights of every person, especially the weak and marginalized, in a constant search for truth” (Ibid, 2). Through words and deeds, the Church – Mother and Teacher – proclaims to the people of God and to all others the essential social values of equality and participation, as Paul VI taught so well (cf. Ibid, no. 2). She contributes with other people to integral human development, integral reconciliation, and an ecological conversion that underlines human ecology. Furthermore, she reminds all that to every human right corresponds a co-relative duty (cf. Ibid 2).
The Bible, particularly through the prophets and the Prophet Jesus, reminds individuals and peoples of God’s covenant with humanity that peace entails “renouncing our desire to dominate others and learning to see one another as persons, sons and daughters of God, brothers and sisters” (Message, 3). Jesus asked his disciples to forgive one another always (cf. Mt 18:21-22). I remember the significant title of St John Paul II 2002 Peace Message issued a few months after the barbaric terrorist attacks on the Tween Towers of New York and the Pentagon in Washington DC (September 11, 2001): “No peace without justice. No justice without forgiveness.”
For Christians, Jesus Christ is the reconciler par excellence. Christians fix their eyes on Jesus who reconcile all things on earth and in heaven “by making peace through the blood of his cross” (Col 1:20; cf Message, 5), by reconciling one another (cf Rom 5:6-11). Jesus – God and man – keeps teaching all by his words and deeds of the power of God’s love, which is “liberating, limitless, gratuitous and tireless, generous and unconditional” (Message, 5). God loves us all and awaits us – like the father of the prodigal son – in the Sacrament of Reconciliation (cf. Lk 15:11-22; Message, 5).
HOPEFUL ACTION FOR PEACE
There is in our societies much talk on peace, but much less genuine action for peace by the hopeful path of dialogue and reconciliation. Wars never ease, conflicts between nations and within nations continue to thrive. And yet, “All things desire peace” (St. Augustine), and “We desire to obtain what we desire” (St. Thomas Aquinas). Our words of peace, not to be empty and useless words, ought to be shown in enduring commitment to peace, which implies this: to become “convinced witnesses, peacemakers, open to dialogue and rejecting exclusion or manipulation” (cf. Message, 3-4).
In a democratic society, each individual is obliged to contribute responsibly to peace locally, nationally and globally (Message, 2). Every human being is responsible with all others to contribute to peace by promoting the equal dignity and rights of all, by participating in the solution of the social, economic and ecological problems of our day, and by being educated and educate others in social values and the meaning of life, justice, peace and hope. Any development – social, economic, political, cultural – must contribute to integral human development: the development of the whole individual person and of all persons.
Let me underline again the essential need of forgiving one another – as individual persons, as nations – to be truly reconciled with one another, and thus becoming men and women of peace. The glaring economic and political inequalities, can only be diminished if we go beyond strict justice to a certain “gratuitousness and communion.” We all should light a candle of active commitment to be able to develop “a more just economic system” (Ibid, 3).
Still urgently needed today: No violence in thought, word, or deed (cf. Message, 5). Let me close with Gandhi’s well-known saying: There is no way to peace, peace is the way.