January 1st was the 53rd World Day of Peace in the Catholic Church. Having begun by Pope St. Paul VI in 1967, every Pope since then has continued the tradition of writing a pastoral letter on Peace on this day.
During these years there have been wars and conflicts in the following countries: Eretria, S. Korea, Malaysia, North Ireland, Italy, Philippines, El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras, Mexico, The Falklands, Indonesia, Jordan, Palestine, Israel, Lebanon, Syria, Iran, Iraq, Turkey, Yemen, Egypt, Bangladesh, India, United Arab Republic, Ethiopia, Chili, Argentina, Brazil, Peru, China, Russia, Afghanistan, Uganda, Rwanda, Libya, Kenya, Nigeria, Cameroon, Bosnia-Herzegovina, Croatia, Kosovo, Serbia, Panama, Romania, Ukraine, Zimbabwe, Grenada, New Guinea, Senegal, Sudan, South Africa, Gambia, Sierra Leone, Sri Lanka, Somalia, Panama, Mali, and Ethiopia. I am sure I have missed some. Almost every other country in the world has been involved in one or more of these conflicts.
Why keep writing letters on peace in the face of such violence? The simple answer is because peace is the way of Jesus Christ and he is the center of the Church. The more complicated response is that the voice of peace is heard in each and every conflict. Everywhere there is war, there are always people who speak and act for peace and in peace. There are conscientious objectors, there are individuals who face the guns with hands empty of weapons. There are those who speak truth to power. There are negotiators, there are those who care for the injured with compassion regardless of what side of the conflict they are on. There are those who refuse to hate no matter what losses they have suffered personally. There are those who give succor to the oppressed and hunted, to those one state or another has deemed the enemy. There are those who refuse to see anyone as enemy.
The violent actions of individuals or states cannot deter a Christian from acting as Christ, which is to love one another as he loved us, to forgive seventy times seven, to do good to those who hate us. So the Church, in the person of the pope, keeps writing letters of peace and offering prayers for peace, especially on the World Day of Prayer for Peace every January 1st.
This year Pope Francis calls peace “a journey of hope in the face of obstacles and trials… The terrible trials of internal and international conflicts, often aggravated by ruthless acts of violence, have an enduring effect on the body and soul of humanity. War, as we know, often begins with the inability to accept the diversity of others, which then fosters attitudes of aggrandizement and domination born of selfishness and pride, hatred and the desire to caricature, exclude and even destroy the other. War is fueled by a perversion of relationships, by abuses of power, by fear of others and by seeing diversity as an obstacle. And these, in turn, are aggravated by the experience of war.” The cycle is hard to break and even harder to reverse from abuse of power to sharing of power.
The call to reconciliation with one another and with all creation is impossible without divine action. God needs to work through us. We need to let the face of God be made visible in peace and justice.
“The grace of God our Father is bestowed as unconditional love. Having received his forgiveness in Christ, we can set out to offer that peace to the men and women of our time. Day by day, the Holy Spirit prompts in us ways of thinking and speaking that can make us artisans of justice and peace.”
Article first published by the Rhode Island Catholic