CONSTANT THEME – Francis, the ‘geographies’ of peace

– Carlos M. Frota

If there is a topic common to all Popes’ New Year addresses to the diplomatic corps and to the world community at large, to Christians and non Christians, peace is that topic. And not by coincidence, January the 1st is a day dedicated internationally to the cause of peace.

Peace is a common concern all the time. In terms of history and of human lifetime. Why, beyond the associations already mentioned of its deep links with other social or individual goals? Because peace is fragile.

At the beginning of his speech to the Diplomatic Corps, last January 9, Pope Francis recognizes how our times are challenged by attacks against real peace:

“It urges us to keep in mind that our human family is scarred and wounded by a succession of increasingly destructive wars that especially affect the poor and those most vulnerable.”

The Pontiff singled out some of the critical issues of the present time.

Once again, then, in the beginning of the New Year,  Pope Francis delivered his message to the ambassadors accredited to the Holy See and this pretext motivated this text about peace.

“Thank you in advance for your patience in reading my personal reflections.

“In a language well known by Christians, and other religious believers as well, we could start … and immediately conclude (!) this reflection, saying that the truly geography of peace is the human heart.  Even if it’s symbolic, the image is nevertheless true.  Because peace is first and foremost an attitude of the spirit, a choice from inside, honoring our human dignity.

“All religions, all philosophies honor peace not only as a great achievement of the human condition (overcoming our bad instincts and worst  inclinations)  but as the basic prerequisite  for human realization.

“Reading the four Gospels we Christians are immediately captivated by the personality of Jesus, as a man of peace. His behavior as an individual (‘forgetting’ for a second his divine nature) expresses peace and inspires peace. And his teachings not only proclaim a new code of peace for human relations, but an entire new form of exercising power in society, shaping accordingly the life of communities and nations.

“Yes, by its own nature, peace is linked to the exercise of power. Individual power from an individual to another, or political power expressed in all forms  of social / institutional organization. And it’s exactly here that the Church intervenes, as a mother and a teacher.”

Peace is also a question (how to promote and safeguard it) at the center of the speeches delivered by national leaders to their countrymen and women in special commemorative occasions or during tough times like crises of tragedies.

We don’t need to ask ourselves why the topic is so recurrent: the reasons are quite obvious. Peace is associated with the ideal of material prosperity, economic development, poverty alleviation and  eradication, continuous education efforts, cultural advancement, personal fulfillment.

Born  in the human spirit, peace is nevertheless subjected to all human failures and deviations, from the purest and sincerest ideal to all forms of cynicism and lies. Because the rhetoric of peace can be used as a mantle for deception, an instrument of hatred and future subjugation, as history proves it abundantly.

Historically, there are men of peace and the opposite, we all know. And among Christian nations history created a strange combination of Christian values and military traditions which the majority of us accept without contradiction at all. In other cultures and civilizations, where other religions dominated, the same phenomenon occurred of sacrificing human lives in  wars without justification but the vanity and prestige of kings and princes.  But this is another debate …  and a very complex one! Even if Christian thinkers produced the theories of the “just war,” how many Christian princes of apparent good faith led their armies to worthless combats to nourish their own vanity and desire of glory!

A renewed message

“Peace and integral human development are in fact the principal aim of the Holy See in its involvement in the field of diplomacy,”  expressly told Pope Francis to the ambassadors accredited to the Vatican, one week ago.

Founding principles of UN remain valid, says Pope Francis. Peace is the paramount goal enshrined in founding declarations and covenants, inspiring and regulating relations among nations, such as the United Nations Charter  and many other relevant sets of principles.

Pope Francis noted that 2020 marks the 75th anniversary of the founding of the United Nations. The Pope insisted that the foundational principles of the organization – the desire for peace, the pursuit of justice, respect for the dignity of the human person, and humanitarian cooperation and assistance – remain valid today, and should form the basis for international relations. Referencing the Encyclical Pacem in Terris, by St John XXIII, Pope Francis said, “We wish to reaffirm the resolve of the entire human family to work for the common good as a criterion for moral action, and a goal inspiring each country to cooperate in guaranteeing the existence and peaceful security of all others.” And he affirmed, too, that human rights are “intrinsically grounded in human nature itself.” In this context, he said, “there is a clear need to move once again towards an overall reform of the multilateral system, beginning with the UN system.”

The  geographies of peace

Latin America. Middle East. Africa. Refugees. Religious hatred. Social growing  inequalities. These are some of the geographies where peace, in the global sense of the word, is much needed.

Pope Francis talked about Latin American, his own continent : “Generally speaking, the conflicts of the American region, despite their different roots, are linked by profound forms of inequality, injustice and endemic corruption, as well as by various kinds of poverty that offend the dignity of persons. Consequently, there is a need for political leaders to work diligently to reestablish a culture of dialogue for the sake of the common good, to reinforce democratic institutions and promote respect for the rule of law, as a means of countering anti-democratic, populist and extremist tendencies.

Middle East. Pope Francis to the diplomats: “A more steadfast and effective engagement on the part of the international community is most urgent in other parts of the Mediterranean area and in the Middle East. I think especially of the pall of silence that risks falling over the war that has devastated Syria over the course of the last decade. It is imperative to devise suitable and far-sighted solutions capable of enabling the beloved Syrian people, exhausted by war, to regain peace and to begin the reconstruction of the country.”

Refugees and social instability

“The Holy See favorably regards every initiative aimed at laying the groundwork for the resolution of the conflict, and once more expresses its gratitude to Jordan and Lebanon for having welcomed and taken responsibility, not without significant sacrifice, for millions of Syrian refugees. Sadly, in addition to the difficulties caused by this welcome, other factors of economic and political uncertainty, in Lebanon and in other states, are provoking tensions among the population, further endangering the fragile stability of the Middle East.”

  Pope Francis and the geographies of peace. The entire world. In need of fixing.