A fifly tradition
On 8 December 1967, Pope Paul VI, who had concluded and closed the Second Vatican Council on the same date two years earlier, surprised the world with a message addressed “to all men of goodwill” inviting them to celebrate Peace Day throughout the Orb on January 1, 1968 and expressing to them his wish that Then, “every year, this celebration was repeated as a harbinger and as a promise, at the beginning of the calendar that measures and describes the path of life in time, that it is Peace with its just and beneficial balance that dominates the development of future history.”
Pope Montini, with his proposal, became an interpreter of the aspirations of international peoples and entities, of rulers, social movements and religious institutions who, at that time high in bloc politics and cold warfare at the global level, felt how necessary Peace was and at the same time how threatened it was. His proposition was not limited to the religious or Catholic world, but sought “the adherence of all the friends of Peace, as if it were his own initiative”, for the exaltation of this first good that is Peace, in the multiple concert of modern humanity. The Pope aspired that his initiative would not only be supported and assumed by the civilian world, but to generate a universal consciousness that, healed from the wounds of war, knew how to “give the history of the world an orderly and happier civil development”. And he proposed some common points that should characterize the Day of Peace: “the need to defend peace against the dangers that always threaten it: the danger of survival of selfishness in relations between nations; the danger of violence to which some peoples can be dragged away by despair, by not recognizing and respecting their right to life and human dignity; the danger, now tremendously increased, of the use of the terrible exterminating armaments available to some Powers, using enormous financial means, the dispending of which is a source of painful reflection in the face of the serious needs that afflict the development of so many other peoples; the danger of believing that international disputes cannot be resolved by the ways of reason, i.e. negotiations based on law, justice, equity, but only by those of dreadful and deadly forces.”
The obvious topicality of St Paul VI’s counsel is never surprising. That said then, it is entirely valid for the present moment, constantly threatened by international tensions, by the arms race, by neocolonialism, by the indiscriminate use of the planet’s natural resources, by hot wars in many points of world geography, whose ultimate reasons seem to be misappropriation of basic energy sources and arms sales.
The Pope also recalled, in his message, the solid foundations that sustain true peace: “sincerity, that is, justice and love in relations between States and, in the sphere of each of the Nations, of citizens with each other and with their rulers; the freedom of individuals and peoples, in all their civic, cultural, moral, religious expressions; otherwise peace will not be achieved—even if oppression is capable of creating an outward aspect of order and legality—but the continuous and insophable flow of revolts and wars.” Thus, peace understood as one of the highest and most universal values of human life, together with truth, justice, freedom and love.
The Pope justified his proposal not to give in to an easy custom, or fashion of the moment, but to raise awareness of an impossible need and urgency, a demand that springs from the very bowel of the Gospel that the Church preaches: “We do so because we see Peace threatened gravely and with foresasures of terrible events that can be catastrophic for entire nations , and perhaps also for much of humanity; We do this because, in the last years of the history of our century, it has finally appeared very clearly that Peace is the single and true line of human progress (not the tensions of ambitious nationalisms, nor violent conquests, nor repressions carrying a false civil order); We do this because Peace is in the bowel of the Christian religion, for it is for the Christian to proclaim peace is to proclaim Christ; “He is our peace” (Eph 2:14); his is “gospel of peace” (Eph 6:15); through His sacrifice on the Cross, He performed universal reconciliation and we, his followers, are called to be ‘operators of Peace’ (Mt 5:9).”
Thus, on 1 January 1968, World Day of Peace was born. Cardinal Roger Etchegaray, President of the Pontifical Council for Justice and Peace, said in 1998 that Paul VI’s happy initiative, thirty years earlier, “was like a bottle with a message thrown into the sea by Paul VI. All these messages are available to both the little ones and the heads of state, the simple ones and the expert politicians; in short, within reach of the heart even more than reason, of reason even more than of faith. These messages have an extraordinary echo even in countries where Catholics are a minority. They are the most frequently cited pontifical texts in international fields, and thus contribute to spreading the social doctrine of the Church everywhere.”
Over the course of these 52 years, all the pontifical messages for World Day of Peace, in the successive Pontificates of Paul VI, John Paul II, Benedict XVI and Francis, constitute a whole body of Catholic doctrine on peace and universal human coexistence. The seed sown by St Paul VI, more than half a century ago, is paying off.
Peace as a path of hope
True to the quote and following in the footsteps of his predecessors, and his own in his years as pontificate, Pope Francis, dated 8 December 2019, offered us the text of the message for the LIII World Day of Peace 2020, under the title Peace as a path of hope: dialogue, reconciliation and ecological conversion.
In the close and easily intelligible language to which Pope Bergoglio has accustomed us, he tells us, first of all, that “waiting in peace is a human attitude that contains an existential tension”, which leads us to overcome difficulties and justify efforts, even when obstacles seem insurmountable. And it spares no qualifiers or expressions to describe the situation of so many affected by the lack of peace in today’s world: “whole nations… so many men and women, children and the elderly… many innocent victims carry upon themselves the torment of humiliation and exclusion, of mourning and injustice…”. It is noticeable that the Pope knows, that Francis feels; in his heart beat the sufferings of so many ignored and excluded anywhere in the world. War hurts the Pope, any war, which he calls “fratricide that destroys the same fraternity project, inscribed in the vocation of the human family”. Wars that can lead even to the total destruction of humanity. He recalls what he said a few weeks ago in Nagasaki Atomic Bomb Epicenter Park: “Peace and international stability are incompatible with any attempt to be founded on fear of mutual destruction or a threat of total annihilation.” He adds in the message: “Nuclear deterrence can create nothing but illusory security.” Francis concludes the first part of his message with clear and blunt words, recalling that universal fraternity is the foundation of peace, and peace is the intimate yearning of every human person: “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.”
The second part of the text describes peace as a way of listening based on memory, solidarity and fraternity. No doubt ‘listening’ means much more than just ‘hearing’. Authentic listening involves attention, openness to changing criteria, availability for seduction, interest in each other or other. “Listen Israel” is one of the constant invitations or commands that Yahweh God makes to the people of Israel in Sacred Scripture; hears that it carries the obedience of faith. It is very important for Pope Francis that we open ourselves to listening to the memory of what happened in so many massacres, genocides, exterminations or wars lived by humanity, some very recent. Keeping alive the flame of the collective conscience of its victims is a guarantee and encouragement to build a fairer and more fraternal future. “Memory is… the horizon of hope,” says the Pope. But it is not enough to stay in memory or remembrance – Francis continues to aim –… we need convinced witnesses and craftsmen of peace in the present, men and women who dialogue in search of truth beyond different ideologies and opinions, a path that is made together “always seeking the common good and committing ourselves to fulfill our word and respect the laws”, a path that transforms us, in which of enemies we become friends , and from mere friends we came to discover each other brothers. The Pope says, “it is a patient job that seeks truth and justice”, because without reaching the truth there is no true justice and without justice authentic and lasting peace cannot be built. “It is a social construction and a task in progress” to which we all contribute collectively, in solidarity and fraternally, recognizing each other’s duties to others, so that we can also safeguard individual or collective rights, especially the weakest or most marginalized. Francis concludes by recalling that “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.”
In the third part, the Pope describes peace as a path of reconciliation in fraternal communion. Seeing one another as people, as children of God, as brothers who respect each other makes it possible to “break the spiral of vengeance and embark on the path of hope.” And Francis proposes to us to walk the path of forgiveness, from the dialogue between Peter and Jesus (Mt 18:21-22: “Seventy times seven”), as a path to peace. “Learning to live in forgiveness increases our ability to become women and men of peace.” Undoubtedly, the force of forgiveness disarms the most staunch enemy, deprives those who want to keep fighting from arguments. Pope Francis then recalls that “the question of peace permeates all dimensions of community life”, not only the social sphere but also the political and the economic. He concludes: “there will never be true peace unless we are able to build a fairer economic system,” open to forms with certain margins of gratuitousness and communion.
In the fourth section the Pontiff describes the relationship between peace and ecology, and proposes to walk the path of ecological conversion to find peace. Conversion that means continuing to grow in respect for the common house, in the rejection of the abusive exploitation of natural resources, in contemplation of the world created as a gift from God, in “the acceptance of the gift of creation, which reflects the beauty and wisdom of its Creator”. For Pope Francis, respect for creation cannot be separated from respect for others and respect for God. Because God is the Creator of everything, and that everything includes everyone, we cannot individually consider ourselves owners and lords, but depositaries and administrators, of the immense wealth that surrounds us. And that wealth is a common heritage of humanity before us and also of future generations. The Pope says: “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.”
Pope Francis concludes his message in a fifth and final section, in which he uses a phrase from St John of the Cross, in his Dark Night, as a title: “So much is achieved as expected”. It is an invitation to patience and trust in the difficult way to build peace. We must “believe in the possibility of peace, to believe 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.” Fears bring us closer or more conflict, but we must go further, to the encounter of God and to the encounter of our brothers and sisters, we must “always aspire to live universal fraternity, as children of the one heavenly Father”. For Christians, the Pope says, this path is sustained by the Sacrament of Reconciliation, a path of encounter with Christ who has reconciled all things, making peace by the blood of his Cross (Col 1:20), and who “asks us to lay down any form of violence in our thoughts, words or actions, both towards our neighbour and towards creation”. What a precious principle of life and coexistence for peace!
Pope Francis concludes his message by expressing a universal desire: “that every person who comes into this world may know an existence of peace and fully develop the promise of love and life that he carries with him”.
Also for us
We are often tempted to think that these kinds of messages are not for us, for we are not conflicting people and do not live in a wary society; that we don’t need to think about peace because we are left over peaceful men and women who flee conflict and any form of violence; that we are equal and dialogue, authentic “craftsmen of peace” in any of the areas in which we move daily.
But what peace are we talking about? What do we mean by peace? Really, is our interior at peace? Do our families live in peace? Our society lacks conflict and we all live together harmoniously and in peace?
The peace of which Francis speaks to us is not the mere absence of conflict or war, it is not the balance of opponents or adversaries, it is not the simple ‘peaceful’ acceptance of everything because I have no other way out, it is not the ‘aoritic adaptation’ to the social environment in which we work.
The peace of which the Pope speaks to us is only understood when we live. And to live it requires capacity and desire to listen and sincere openness to the Creator God who has given us life and sustains us in it, others as companions and brothers on the path of life and to the universe created as a gift of God that surrounds us. Openings that are hopelessly accompanied by silence and internalization. The peace of the heart, of conscience, which produces the duty accomplished, or the work well done, or the coherence of life, is the basic foundation of other levels of peace. When there is no peace in the heart we can hardly be craftsmen of peace. The Christian faith, the trust in the Father’s mercy manifested in Jesus Christ, always proposes to us the path of reconciliation, human and sacramental, in order to recover the peace of the heart. That peace does not depend on techniques or ways of breathing or accommodating the body. It depends on the sincere desire to confront one’s life with the truth of God and oneself.
And from inner peace we can be the architects of peace in the family and in our areas of coexistence. Let’s be honest… we need more peace and quiet in our families. The circumstances in which we live, the deficiencies, the limitations, the economic and even housing narrowness make us lose peace and patience; but not only that, but also our self-sufficient thinking, our prides and ideological dependencies, our lack of self-criticism or our vices. Pope Francis offers us in his message several suggestions to grow on the path of peace… there are no solutions made or pharmacy prescriptions, because peace is a task to be accomplished, a way forward together, in which the ingredients of sincere dialogue, mutual respect, and forgiveness and reconciliation cannot be lacking. Growing in solidarity and fraternity is always the way to peace.
Peace also yearned for in the broader areas of our society, where we work, live together, participate, have fun, in short, develop as intelligent and free people. We all want to live in peace. And so, in a respectful and shared way, we must be willing to let ourselves be challenged by this desire as human as it is essential. Co-responsibility is everyone’s, but not at the same level. It is clear that those who undertake tasks of organization and government, in any institution, must become more deeply and intensely involved in terms of social peace, in the defence of the common good and individual and collective rights, in social dialogue and justice, in the concrete solution of the problems especially of the poorest and most disadvantaged , in the fight against corruption and favoritism, in respect for the way of thinking and expressing oneself of each other, being at the same time the authority that guarantees order and fulfillment of the obligations of each individual as a free citizen. True social peace will be the fruit of this collective and co-responsible work in which respectful dialogue and constructive criticism, without prejudice or resentment, prompt us to be more and more supportive and fraternal every day, in which we feel reconciled and reconciled, more defenders of the common house and more grateful, those of us who have faith, with the God who is the creator of everything and Father of all , who has manifested himself to us in Jesus Christ, Father and Prince of Peace, the same one who tells us all, blessed, blissful, happy those who seek and work for Peace.
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