Peace as a path of hope:
dialogue, reconciliation and ecological conversion
1. Peace, path of hope in the face of obstacles and trials
Peace, as the object of our hope, is a precious good, to which all humanity aspires. Waiting in peace is a human attitude that contains existential tension, and in this way any difficult situation “can be lived and accepted if it leads to a goal, if we can be sure of this goal and if this goal is so great that it justifies the effort of the way”.1 In this sense, hope is the virtue that sets us on the way , gives us wings to move forward, even when obstacles seem second to none.
Our human community bears, in memory and in the flesh, the signs of wars and conflicts that have occurred, with increasing destructive capacity, and which continue to affect especially the poorest and the weakest. Entire nations also strive to free themselves from the chains of exploitation and corruption, which fuel hatred and violence. Even today, so many men and women, children and the elderly are denied dignity, physical integrity, freedom, including religious freedom, community solidarity, hope for the future. Many innocent victims carry upon themselves the torment of humiliation and exclusion, of mourning and injustice, not to say the traumas resulting from systematic ensentment against their people and loved ones.
The terrible trials of civil and international conflicts, often aggravated by merciless violence, long mark the body and soul of humanity. In reality, every war is revealed as a fratricide that destroys the same fraternity project, inscribed in the vocation of the human family.
We know that war often begins with intolerance of each other’s diversity, which fosters a desire for possession and a will for dominance. It is born in the heart of man by selfishness and pride, by the hatred that instigates to destroy, to enclose the other in a negative image, to exclude and eliminate it. War draws on the perversion of relationships, hegemonic ambitions, abuses of power, fear of the other, and difference seen as an obstacle; and at the same time feeds all this.
It is paradoxical, as I pointed out during the recent trip to Japan, that “our world lives the perverse dichotomy of wanting to defend and guarantee stability and peace on the basis of false security underpinned by a mentality of fear and mistrust, which ends up poisoning relations between peoples and preventing any possible dialogue. International peace and stability are incompatible with any attempt to be founded on fear of mutual destruction or a threat of total annihilation; it is only possible from a global ethic of solidarity and cooperation at the service of a future embodied by interdependence and co-responsibility among the whole human family today and tomorrow.”2
Any threat situation fuels mistrust and retreat in the condition itself. Mistrust and fear increase the fragility of relations and the risk of violence, in a vicious cycle that can never lead to a relationship of peace. In this sense, even nuclear deterrence can create nothing but illusory security.
Therefore, we cannot expect stability to be maintained in the world through fear of annihilation, in a highly unstable balance, suspended on the edge of the nuclear abyss and enclosed within the walls of indifference, in which socio-economic decisions are made, which open the way to dramas of discarding man and creation , instead of protecting one another.3 So how to build a path of peace and mutual recognition? How to break the morbid logic of threat and fear? How to end the dynamics of mistrust that currently prevail?
We must seek true fraternity, which is based on our common origin in God and exercised in dialogue and mutual trust. The desire for peace is deeply inscribed in man’s heart and we must not resign ourselves to anything less than this.
2. Peace, a journey of listening based on memory, solidarity and fraternity
The Hibakusha, the survivors of the atomic bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, are among those who today keep alive the flame of collective consciousness, testifying to generations to come the horror of what happened in August 1945 and the indescribable suffering that continues to this day. His testimony awakens and preserves in this way the memory of the victims, so that human consciousness may become increasingly strengthened against every desire for domination and destruction: “We cannot allow the present and new generations to lose the memory of what happened, that memory that is guarantor and encouragement to build a more just and fraternal future.”4
Like them, many offer the essential service of memory throughout the world, which must be maintained not only to avoid making the same mistakes again or not to re-propose the illusory schemes of the past, but also so that it, the fruit of experience, will form the root and suggest the way for present and future peace decisions.
Memory is, moreover, the horizon of hope: often, in the darkness of wars and conflicts, the memory of a small gesture of solidarity received can also inspire courageous and even heroic choices, it can launch new energies and revive new hope in both individuals and communities.
Opening up and charting a path of peace is a very complex challenge, as the interests at stake in relations between individuals, communities and nations are multiple and contradictory. First, it is necessary to appeal to moral conscience and personal and political will. Peace, in fact, springs from the depths of the human heart and political will always needs revitalization, in order to open new processes that reconcile and unscreage people and communities.
The world does not need empty words, but convinced witnesses, artisans of peace open to dialogue without exclusion or manipulation. In fact, peace cannot really be achieved unless there is a convinced dialogue of men and women seeking truth beyond different ideologies and opinions. Peace “must be continually built”,5 a path we make together always seeking the common good and committing ourselves to fulfill our word and respect the laws. Knowledge and esteem for others can also grow in mutual listening, to the point of recognizing in the enemy the face of a brother.
Therefore, the peace process is a constant commitment in time. It is a patient work that seeks truth and justice, that honors the memory of the victims and that opens, step by step, to a common hope, stronger than revenge. In a rule of law, democracy can be a significant paradigm of this process, if it is based on justice and a commitment to safeguarding the rights of each one, especially if it is weak or marginalized, in the continuous search for truth.6 It is a social construct and a task in progress, in which each contributes responsiblely to all levels of the local community.6 It is a social construct and a task in progress, in which each contributes responsiblely to all levels of the local community.6 It is a social construct and a task in progress, in which each contributes responsiblely to all levels of the local community.6 It is a social construct and a task in progress, in which each contributes responsiblely to all levels of the local community.6 It is a social construct and a task in progress, in which each contributes responsiblely to all levels of the local community.6 It is a social construct and a task in progress, in which each contributes responsiblely to all levels of the local community.6 It is a social construct and a task in progress, in which each contributes responsiblely to all levels of , national and global.
As St Paul VI emphasized: “The double aspiration for equality and participation seeks to promote a kind of democratic society. […] This indicates the importance of education for life in society, where, in addition to information on the rights of each one, its necessary correlative is remembered: recognition of each other’s duties to others; the meaning and practice of duty are mutually conditioned by one’s mastery, acceptance of responsibilities and limits placed on the exercise of the freedom of the individual or group.”7
On the contrary, the gap between members of a society, the increase in social inequalities and the refusal to use tools for integral human development jeopardize the pursuit of the common good. Instead, patient work based on the power of word and truth can awaken people’s capacity for compassion and creative solidarity.
In our Christian experience, we constantly remember Christ, who gave his life for our reconciliation (cf. Rom 5:6-11). The Church participates fully in the search for a just order, and continues to serve the common good and nures hope for peace through the transmission of Christian values, moral teaching, and social and educational works.
3. Peace, the path of reconciliation in fraternal communion
The Bible, in a particular way through the word of the prophets, calls consciences and peoples to God’s covenant with humanity. It is about abandoning the desire to dominate others and learning to look like people, as children of God, as brothers and sisters. The other should never be typecast by what he could say or do, but should be considered by the promise within him. Only by choosing the path of respect will it be possible to break the spiral of vengeance and embark on the path of hope.
We are guided by the gospel passage that shows the following dialogue between Peter and Jesus: “‘Lord, if my brother offends me, how many times do I have to forgive Him? Up to seven times?’ Jesus replies, ‘I say unto you not up to seven times, but up to seventy times seven'” (Mt 18:21-22). This path of reconciliation calls us to find in the depths of our hearts the strength of forgiveness and the ability to recognize us as brothers and sisters. Learning to live in forgiveness increases our ability to become women and men of peace.
What we say about peace in the social sphere also applies politically and economically, since the question of peace permeates all the dimensions of Community life: there will never be true peace unless we are able to build a fairer economic system. As Benedict XVI wrote ten years ago in the Encyclical Letter Caritas in veritate: “Victory over underdevelopment requires action not only in improving transactions based on buying and selling, or in the transfers of public welfare structures, but above all in the progressive opening in the world context to forms of economic activity characterized by certain margins of gratuitousness and communion” (n. 39).
4. Peace, path of ecological conversion
“If a miscon understanding of our own principles has sometimes led us to justify the mistreatment of nature or the despotic dominion of the human being over the created or the wars, injustice, and violence, believers can recognize that in this way we have been unfaithful to the treasure of wisdom that we should guard.”8
Faced with the consequences of our hostility to others, disrespect for the common home and the abusive exploitation of natural resources – seen as useful tools only for immediate benefit, without respect for local communities, for the common good and for nature – we need ecological conversion.
The recent Synod on the Amazon leads us to renew the call to a peaceful relationship between communities and the earth, between present and memory, between experiences and hopes.
This path of reconciliation is also listening to and contemplating the world God gave us to make it our common home. In fact, natural resources, the many forms of life and the land itself are entrusted to us to be “cultivated and preserved” (cf. Gen 2.15) also for future generations, with the responsible and active participation of each one. In addition, we need a change in convictions and gaze, which opens us more to the encounter with the other and to the acceptance of the gift of creation, which reflects the beauty and wisdom of its Doer.
From this arise, in particular, deep motivations and a new way of living in the common house, of meeting one another from one’s own diversity, of celebrating and respecting the life received and shared, of worrying about the conditions and models of society that favor the flourishing and permanence of life in the future, of increasing the common good of the whole human family.
Therefore, the ecological conversion to which we appeal leads us to have a new look at life, considering the generosity of the Creator who gave us the earth and who reminds us of the joyful sobriety of sharing. This conversion must be understood in an integral way, as a transformation of our relationships with our brothers and sisters, with other living beings, with creation in its rich variety, with the Creator who is the origin of all life. For the Christian, he asks “to let all the consequences of his encounter with Jesus Christ sprout in relations with the world around them.”9
5. So much is achieved as expected. 10
The path of reconciliation requires patience and trust. Peace is not achieved if it is not expected.
First of all, it is a question of believing in the possibility of peace, of believing that the other has our same need for peace. In this, we can draw inspiration from God’s love for each of us, a liberating, limitless, gratuitote and tireless love.
Fear is often a source of conflict. It is therefore important to go beyond our human fears, recognizing ourselves as children in need, before the One who loves and awaits us, as the Father of the prodigal son (cf. Lk 15:11-24). The culture of encounter between brothers and sisters breaks with the culture of threat. It makes every encounter a possibility and a gift of God’s generous love. It guides us to go beyond the limits of our narrow horizons, to always aspire to live universal fraternity, as children of the one heavenly Father.
For Christ’s disciples, this path is also sustained by the Sacrament of Reconciliation, which the Lord left us for the remission of the sins of the baptized. This sacrament of the Church, which renews people and communities, calls us to keep our gaze on Jesus, who has reconciled “all things, those of heaven and those of the earth, making peace by the blood of his cross” (Col 1:20); and asks us to put any violence in our thoughts, words and actions, both towards our neighbor and towards creation.
God the Father’s grace is given as unconditional love. Having received his forgiveness, in Christ, we can set out to offer it to the men and women of our time. Day after day, the Holy Spirit suggests attitudes and words for us to become artisans of justice and peace.
May the God of peace bless us and come to our aid.
May Mary, Mother of the Prince of Peace and Mother of all the peoples of the earth, accompany us and sustain us on the path of reconciliation, step by step.
And that every person who comes into this world can know an existence of peace and fully develop the promise of love and life that he carries with him.
Vatican, 8 December 2019
1 Benedict XVI: Letter enc. Spe salvi (November 30, 2007), 1.
2 Speech on Nuclear Weapons, Nagasaki, Atomic Bomb Epicenter Park, 24 November 2019.
3 Cf. Homily in Lampedusa, 8 July 2013.
4 Meeting for Peace, Hiroshima, Peace Memorial, 24 November 2019.
5 Conc. Ecum. Vat. II: Const. grass. Gaudium et spes, 78.
6 Cf. Benedict XVI: Address to the leaders of the Christian associations of Italian workers, 27 January 2006.
7 Letter. Ap. Octogesima adveniens (May 14, 1971), 24.
8 Letter enc. Laudato si’ (24 May 2015), 200.
9 Ibid., 217.
10 Cf. John of the Cross: Dark Night, II, 21, 8.