KIGOMA, Tanzania, SEPT. 21, 2005 (Zenit.org).- Here is the text of an address given by Cardinal Renato Martino, the president of the Pontifical Council for Justice and Peace, on the theme “Reconciliation and Peace.”
He gave the address at a meeting of Church representatives from Tanzania, Burundi, Rwanda and Congo on July 18. The text was recently released by the Catholic Information Service for Africa. Part 2 will appear Thursday.
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Dear Priests and Men and Women Religious,
Dear Brothers and Sisters in Christ,
I wish to offer heartfelt thanks to the president and the members of the Episcopal Conference of Tanzania for inviting me to visit your country and to express the solicitude of the universal Church and the closeness of the Holy Father to our brothers and sisters of this local Church and to all those involved in the building up of this country and in the promotion of the common good. I offer a special word of thanks to His Excellency the Most Reverend Paul Ruzoka, president of the episcopal Justice and Peace Commission of Tanzania, for his resolute commitment to promoting justice and peace in Tanzania and for his always appreciated collaboration with the Pontifical Council for Justice and Peace.
At the request of the episcopal Justice and Peace Commission, made in the name of the Episcopal Conference, and with due consideration of the social-pastoral challenges facing the local Church in this region of Africa, it seemed to me appropriate to share with you a few reflections on the theme of reconciliation and peace. In this regard, I wish to call to mind the meeting convened by the Pontifical Council for Justice and Peace in December of 1996 in Nairobi, at the outbreak of the war in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, in order to reflect on the reconciling mission of the Church in the region. Participants in this meeting included the bishops of Burundi, of Rwanda, of what at the time was known as Zaire, and delegates of the Episcopal Conference of Tanzania, Uganda and Kenya. The theme was further investigated in various meetings of the Bishops at the regional level and at the level of the Symposium of Episcopal Conferences of Africa and Madagascar (SECAM), which in 2001 published an important pastoral letter on the topic.
After an introduction on the mystery and the ministry of reconciliation in the sacred Scriptures, I shall dwell on the three dimensions of reconciliation (the internal reconciliation of people within themselves; and external reconciliation between God and men, and between men themselves and between men and creation); I shall then conclude by presenting a few requirements for the consolidation of peace.
The Mystery and the Ministry of Reconciliation
Skimming through the pages of the Old Testament we can easily see that God, faced with mankind’s countless sins, never ceases to offer his forgiveness: this fact represents a significant prelude to his reconciliation with men and women. He reveals himself as “a merciful and gracious God” (Exodus 34:6), who has willingly “revoked (his) burning anger” (Psalm 85:4; cf. 103:8-12) and who speaks of peace for his people (cf. Psalm 65:9). It is reconciliation — even if that word is not used — that Yahweh proposes to his unfaithful spouse (cf. Hosea 2:16-22), to his rebellious children. Every expiatory rite of Mosaic worship, ordained for the purification of various and sundry failures, had as its ultimate aim the reconciliation of man with God. Nonetheless, the time for the complete remission of sin had not yet come and true believers in God remained in expectation of something more (cf. 2 Maccabees 1:5; 7:33; 8:29).
Perfect and definitive reconciliation is brought about by Christ Jesus “the mediator between God and men” (1 Timothy 2:5; cf. Romans 5:10 f; 2 Corinthians 5:18 ff; Ephesians 2:16 f; Colossians 1:20 ff). In fact, man by himself is unable to reconcile himself with the Creator whom he has offended by his sin. Here the action of God comes first and is decisive, “all this has been done by God, who has reconciled us to himself through Jesus Christ” (2 Corinthians 5:18). He loved us while we were still his “enemies” (Romans 5:10), and it was because of that love that his Son “died for us” (Romans 5:8). The mystery of our reconciliation is connected with the mystery of the Cross (cf. Ephesians 2:16) and with the “great love” with which we have been loved (cf. Ephesians 2:4).
In Christ Jesus, God no longer counts the transgressions of men and women against them (cf. 2 Corinthians 5:19). But this is far from being a mere juridical fiction because the action of God is like “a new creation” (2 Corinthians 5:17). Reconciliation implies a complete renewal for those who have received it, and it corresponds to justification (cf. Romans 5:9 f), to sanctification (cf. Colossians 1:21 f). We were formerly enemies of God because of our evil conduct (cf. Romans 1:30; 8:7), but now we can “make God our boast” (Romans 5:11), for Christ wishes to present us “to God holy, free of reproach and blame” (Colossians 1:22); through him we “have access in one Spirit to the Father” (Ephesians 2:18).
The mystery of Christian reconciliation is the source of inspiration and the paradigm of interpretation for the Church’s ministry of reconciliation. The entire work of salvation has in fact already been completed by God, but from another point of view it continues in our own day up to the Parousia, and Saint Paul can define apostolic activity as “the ministry of reconciliation” (2 Corinthians 5:18). As “ambassadors for Christ,” the Apostles are messengers imploring people to “be reconciled to God” (2 Corinthians 5:19f); they proclaim the “Gospel of reconciliation”: This is precisely the content of the apostolic message.
The Gospel of reconciliation can be seen to correspond to the Gospel of peace that is spoken of in Ephesians 6:15. In their ministry, therefore, the servants of the Gospel make every effort — following the example of St. Paul — to be for their part the builders of the peace that they proclaim (cf. 2 Corinthians 6:4-13). Indeed, it follows from the fact that God is the primary and principal author of reconciliation that man has in this area a purely passive role: he must receive God’s gift. The efficacy of divine action is manifested only in those who choose to receive it by faith. This is the reason for Saint Paul’s urgent appeal: “We implore you in Christ’s name: be reconciled to God!” (2 Corinthians 5:20).
In the perspective of the New Testament, the grace of reconciliation involves all creation, for creation too is reconciled. Speaking of the reconciliation of the world (cf. 2 Corinthians 5:19; Romans 11:15), St. Paul had particularly in mind those who were sinners. In his captivity letters, above all his letters to the Colossians and to the Ephesians, the Apostle’s horizons become broader. Reconciliation seems to correspond to the collective salvation of the universe. Perfectly reconciled to God, beings are reconciled among themselves (cf. Colossians 1:20). In the end, the material world itself appears to stand in solidarity with man, with his salvation, as it did at the time of his fall (cf. Romans 8:19-22).
St. Paul crowns his teaching on reconciliation in Ephesians 2:11-22. The action of Christ “our peace” (2:14) is brought fully into the light, and above all the marvelous benefits that he brings to the pagans of yesterday: They are now integrated into the Chosen People on an equal basis with the Jews; the era of separation and hatred is ended, all people now form in Christ one body (2:16) and one holy temple (2:21). The glorious sufferings that the proclamation of this mystery bring to the Apostle to the Gentiles matter little (Ephesians 3:1-13). St. Paul was the inspired theologian and the untiring minister of reconciliation, but Jesus himself, by his sacrifice, was the one who brought it about, “in his mortal body” (Colossians 1:22);
and he was also the first to underline the profound demands of this reconciliation: the sinner reconciled by God cannot offer acceptable worship to God unless he first goes to be reconciled with his brother (Matthew 5:23f).
In the perspective of this marvelous and demanding biblical vision of Christian reconciliation, I wish to stop and reflect on some spiritual and ethical-cultural implications concerning peace and our commitment to peace. In the biblical perspective, in fact, there is a close connection between the Gospel of reconciliation and the Gospel of peace; indeed, Christ has brought about a threefold reconciliation, which represents for us an inexhaustible source of reflection on peace and on the commitment to peace: the internal reconciliation of those saved by him; the external reconciliation between God and man, and between men themselves.
The Peace Within Us: Reconciliation “ad intra”
There are many who emphasize a fact that is quite obvious: “You cannot proclaim or bring about peace if peace does not reign within you.” Placing the accent on this internal dimension of peace can sometimes seem exaggerated or one-sided. For example, we hear people say: “The external fury of conflicts and wars makes little difference; what matters is that you have peace in your heart, the rest is not important.” These exasperating intimist slogans apart, there is no question that peace requires daily efforts for achieving an internal balance and for overcoming the struggles that men and women carry in themselves.
The Letter of St. James tells us that wars arise from an evil root that is within people: “Where do the conflicts and disputes among you originate? Is it not your inner cravings that make war within your members? What you desire you do not obtain, and so you resort to murder. You envy and you cannot acquire, so you quarrel and fight” (James 4:1-2). The Gospel of reconciliation and peace penetrates instead into the inner recesses of the human spirit and, by means of grace, offers the possibility of overcoming these passions: in the first place, healing the inner wound that every person experiences within himself between the ideal to which he aspires and what in effect he is able to accomplish through his own choices and behavior.
St. Paul bears eloquent witness to this wound: “I know that no good dwells in me, that is, in my flesh; the desire to do right is there but not the power. What happens is that I do, not the good I will to do, but the evil I do not intend. But if I do what is against my will, it is not I who do it, but sin which dwells in me. This means that even though I want to do what is right, a law that leads to wrongdoing is always ready at hand. My inner self agrees with the law of God, but I see in my body’s members another law at war with the law of my mind; this makes me the prisoner of the law of sin in my members. What a wretched man I am! Who can free me from this body under the power of death? All praise to God, through Jesus Christ our Lord! So with my mind I serve the law of God but with my flesh the law of sin” (Romans 7:18-25).
The Gospel of reconciliation and peace, when it is interiorized, changes the impulses of aggression that cause us to increase conflicts, that cause us to believe that nonviolence is impractical, that cause us to think of war as a consequence that cannot be avoided.
Christian reconciliation, in fact, radically transforms our inner orientation and overcomes our self-centeredness. It is not merely the elimination of a state of guilt but a transformation, a deeply rooted reorientation, so deeply rooted that even our way of “knowing” is transformed. St. Paul sees two types of knowledge as opposed to each other, one of the flesh and the other of the spirit, one old and the other new (cf. 2 Corinthians 5:16). Knowing according to the flesh cannot simply mean knowing a person in his earthly guise. Rather, it means an old, outdated way of knowing, evaluating and judging. The transformation brought about by reconciliation is the discarding of old systems of evaluation: systems based on race, connected to social or religious discrimination. The person who is reconciled no longer knows according to national or earthly categories, but according to universal categories.
Reconciliation, inner peace-making and purifying ourselves from the viruses of violence — which are transmitted to us by a culture of war that is unfortunately still wide-spread — represent a solemnly important commitment. They are not, however, to be considered tasks that must chronologically precede the commitment to peace in external relations. If in fact we had to wait to be completely at peace within ourselves before devoting ourselves to the work of building peace, we would never begin to carry out tasks that, instead, must not be delayed.
The two aspects of the Christian commitment to peace — the aspect ad intra and the aspect “ad extra” — occur simultaneously and have a mutual positive influence on each other. The more we work to create a culture of peace and to remove the obstacles to such a culture, the more we will experience and strengthen the presence of peace within us. The more we strive to be at peace within ourselves, the more we become capable and credible in bringing peace to people and situations around us.
The Peace Around Us: Reconciliation “ad extra”
Reconciliation “ad extra” starts first of all by making peace with God and being at peace with God, the “Absolutely Other,” who in Christ has made himself closer to us than ever. This is peace with the God of the covenant and the God of peace, from whom true peace descends as a gift. Being at peace with God means living in harmony with his plan of salvation, revealed to us by the Lord Jesus and ceaselessly proclaimed and made relevant by the Church. It means recognizing God’s will, accepting his covenant, the ten great commandments, the new law, which is the Holy Spirit, and, in particular, the beatitudes that represent the frame and background of Christian law — both personal and social — and that give to this law its meaning and specific originality.
Reconciliation “ad extra,” moreover, entails peace with others: with those who are nearby and those who are far away. In the first place, it is peace within the family: peace lived in harmony of relationships and communicated and transmitted by means of education. Peace, in fact, finds its fertile and irreplaceable soil in the first community into which people are placed. Then follows peace in neighborhoods and in the city: the believer, a peace-lover, should be particularly disposed to fight against anything that places peace at risk. This includes social and economic injustices; poverty, whether old or new; cultural models that degrade man and undermine fundamental human rights; armed conflicts and various manifestations of violence, which are the offspring of civil indifference and of estrangement from one’s neighbor.
It is from these levels closest to us that peace must spread out in ever larger concentric circles to the national and international political community. In this perspective and with the daily situations of violence and conflict that this beloved region of Africa has endured for too many years, the Gospel of reconciliation and peace must be the heart of the evangelizing mission of the Church in Africa. This Gospel will help Tanzania and the other countries of the region to choose the path of national reconciliation and to find anew, finally, a time of peace and prosperity. Everyone must know that violence leads nowhere and never represents a proper response to problems.
The Church proclaims, with the conviction of her faith in Christ and the awareness of her mission, “that violence is an evil, that violence as a solution to problems is unacceptable, that violence is unworthy of man. Violence is a lie, because it is contrary to the truth of our faith, to the truth of our humanity. Violence destroys what it claims to defend: the dignity, lives and freedom of human beings.
Dialogue and negotiation, accompanied by the condition that the parties will not make recourse to force , concretely represent the most effective strategy for resolving conflicts in full respect of the requirements of justice , of human rights and of a correct and healthy democratic dynamic of civil and political life within the country.
[Thursday: Some Requirements for Consolidating Peace]