Homily From Holy See's Observer at UN on Peace in Syria

“War is not our way”

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Here is the homily given Saturday, the Day of Fasting and Prayer for Peace in Syria, by Archbishop Francis Assisi Chullikatt, apostolic nuncio and permanent observer of the Holy See to the United Nations. The archbishop gave the homily at St. Patrick’s Cathedral in New York.

* * *

Brothers and sisters in Christ-our-Peace,

It is marvelous how our readings at Mass, even though their sequential pattern was established long ago, somehow always show themselves to be relevant to whatever is happening in our lives, in the world. Truly, it is a mark of how God’s Spirit  addresses His people through the Church and her Liturgy which proclaims God’s eternal Word in every time, in every place, including tonight to us gathered in Saint Patrick’s Cathedral for this special occasion of prayer for peace.

Christ Jesus is our peace, we approach him for words of peace. Seldom does He speak of war; yet in this evening’s Sunday liturgy, the very prospect of war is indicated by our Gospel,[1] wherein our Lord teaches a parable to show us the way to be His disciples. 

To follow Christ, the ‘discipleship’, is not some blindly unthinking action, but requires deliberation and planning. Yes, discipleship comes at a cost, not a monetary price, but it will cost us the whole of our whole life, which is to say, our whole self, holding back on no account: neither for father nor mother, nor riches and power, not even our own life do we value ahead of our service of the God’s Kingdom of peace.  To place our very selves at the service of the Kingdom has the obvious consequence that we are no longer free arbitrarily to do as we would wish but rather are made truly free to serve Christ and one another. 

The king in our Gospel today, who sits down to weigh the consequences of war for his people, is moved to sue rather for peace when he considers the dismal options.

As our first reading today reminds us[2], in this discernment it will not be the wisdom of the world that saves us, but rather a more profound wisdom which only God can bestow on His people and their leaders by letting them know what is His will for us, His desire for human happiness and fulfillment in every generation.

Pope Francis choose today to be a Day of Prayer and Fasting for World Peace, and particularly for peace in Syria, not because he was waiting for the liturgical readings to mention the futility of war, but because of the urgency at this critical juncture of a real commitment from us to peace. The threat of war, yet again, looming in particular at this time over the people of Syria, already so beset by tragedy, causes the Holy Father “great suffering and worry.”[3] The Pope shows us his “heart … deeply wounded [and] anguished by the dramatic developments”[4] in that beleaguered country.

As the Pope’s representative to the United Nations, I bring you the Pope’s own words and urge all of us to take these words to heart: “Today,” says the Pope, “dear brothers and sisters, I wish to add my voice to the cry which rises up with increasing anguish from every part of the world, from every people, from the heart of each person, from the one great family which is humanity: it is the cry for peace!”[5]

Dear brothers and sisters,

With the Pope, I urge you: take this cry for peace and make it your own, every one of us here in this great Cathedral, in this great City, in this great Archdiocese, part of “one great family which is humanity”[6] crying out all together for peace. Peace today, peace tomorrow, peace here, peace everywhere, peace for us, peace for every person, peace for our brothers and our sisters everywhere on earth, and especially in Syria.

Peace is not simply something good to have, it is essential for our very survival. In 1965, when Pope Paul VI became the first Pope to address the General Assembly of the United Nations, he quoted President John F. Kennedy, saying: “Mankind must put an end to war, or war will put an end to mankind.”[7]

The Pope went further yet and made an urgent plea to the nations of the world: “War never again! Never again war!”[8]

Blessed John-Paul II, on his own first visit to the UN, repeated the cry: “War never again! No more war.” The Catholic Church in every place on earth proclaims this identical message of peace, prays for peace, educates for peace.”[9] This is her task – to announce God’s peace – and this is why we gather at this critical moment in prayer and fasting.

Consistent with this, Pope Francis reminds us in calling us to prayer and fasting this day: “Peace is a precious gift, which must be promoted and protected.  I appeal strongly for peace, an appeal which arises from the deep within me.”[10]

As winds of war howl around Syria in this moment, we urge building and restoring peace through all options and alternatives, not yet exhausted. How can we think of military strikes as the only alternative? The end cannot justify the means.

How could we possibly remain indifferent to the humanitarian disaster that strikes would leave in their aftermath!  Who could take the responsibility for such a calamity? Who will shelter the refugees and displaced, those orphaned and widowed? No less than a third of Syria’s population is already displaced.

Escalating the violence would conceivably double that number. The situation is already so grave, worsening daily; so many are dying of hunger, and many others suffer horribly for lack of medical care. It is foreseeable that as much as half of the entire population of Syria will need assistance by year’s end. Imagine the inhumane and deleterious consequences of military strikes in such a scenario! 

What Syria urgently needs is a cessation of violence, not an escalation of violence. A cease-fire, even if only partial, would permit humanitarian assistance to reach at least the hardest hit areas of the country. Helping Syria means finding political and humanitarian solutions through dialogue and reconciliation, not intrusionary military tactics.

The failure to place the human being at the centre of our concerns, including in instances of humanitarian intervention “dehumanizes” us and is profoundly counter-productive. Would that we could invest our resources and efforts in people as willingly as we do in the weapons of war!  Only a culture of peace, rooted in the hearts and minds of people and in each one of us, especially our leaders, can truly bring lasting peace. Peace is the only path for the survival of mankind. There is no other!

Let us put aside the perverse logic of violence, of conflict and war! In the pursuit of peace, including the chastisement of evil, let us never forget that in order to achieve peace, we have to live by peace. So, turn away from evil and do good!

In this moment of prayer and fasting let us urge our leaders, like the king in this Sunday’s parable, to sit down and consider the consequences of resorting yet again to war, repeating past mistakes. Wars to end wars too easily turn out to be stimuli to further wars.

Let us abhor war and embrace the peace God has wrought in Christ.

At every Mass we pray for peace, acknowledging that it is the Lord Himself who gives us the gift of peace:  “Peace I leave you, my peace I give you”.[11]

To pray for peace is of the very nature of our faith commitment; to be a peacemaker is at the heart of the beatitude the Good News of the gospel gifts to the world. Fellow Christians: War is not our way!

As Pastor of the Universal Church, Pope Francis admonishes us to be peacemakers, to instill hope, the desire for peace in the hearts of all. With solicitude for the whole world, the Pope exhorts us to stop and to think, like the king in today’s gospel, before we wound peace any more than it already has been lacerated.

The Pope’s plea is made with full understanding of the horrific complexities
of the situation in Syria.  “How much suffering, how much devastation, how much pain has the use of arms carried in its wake in that martyred country,” cries the Pope, “especially among civilians and the unarmed! I think of many children who will not see the light of the future!” He continues, “With utmost firmness I condemn the use of chemical weapons. There is a judgment of God and of history upon our actions which are inescapable!”[12]

“Never has the use of violence brought peace in its wake. War begets war, violence begets violence.”[13]

Sadly, it is not difficult in the world today to look around and see the results when violence was used as counter-productively in pursuit of peace.

In Iraq, where I served as Nuncio, even now, violence rages there every day – on average 90 people a day are killed, figures for the first days of September show that 187 civilians died in a period of just 96 hours. Indeed: “Never has the use of violence brought lasting peace in its wake.”

Consider Afghanistan, where after many years, violence remains an ever-present threat: even a trip to the shop runs the daily risk of a suicide bomber: “Never has the use of violence brought lasting peace in its wake.”

No, violence will never bring peace in its wake. What fosters lasting peace, Pope Francis tells us, is: “a culture of encounter and a culture of dialogue; this is the only way to peace.”

The only way for Syria and all conflicts is this: “look at each other as brothers and decisively and courageously…follow the path of encounter and negotiation, and so overcome blind conflict.”[14]

Peace doesn’t begin with weapons, but with people, with people like you and me.  Peace begins with the recognition that we constitute a single human family on the face of the earth.  Until we are prepared to ‘look at one another as brothers and sisters’ we can have no lasting chance of seeing through the utter futility of conflict.  It is my own heart I must change first; if each waited first for the other to change, no progress would ever come.  “It pertains to each individual to establish new relationships in human society under the mastery and guidance of justice and love.”[15]

There is a dimension to this, to every conflict, which rises above and beyond the individuals themselves who are involved, for the whole of humanity beholds with horror what these events visit upon their brethren, and so the whole international community is justly invited to play its part in the responsibility of peacemaking: by offering what the Pope calls “clear proposals for peace in Syria without further delay, a peace based on dialogue and negotiation, for the good of the entire Syrian people.”[16]

For those of us attached to the United Nations, the Pope’s plea should present a challenge that we do not baulk from taking up, an invitation to the task of peacemaking which is, after all, the very reason for the existence of our United Nations. The time to make a difference is now, this is the moment for us to demonstrate ourselves true humanitarians, the opportunity to do something that truly helps the people of Syria find peace has arrived.

Now is the time for peacemakers to rise up and be counted, to challenge the misguided, futile and counterproductive logic of violence and war: “War no more! Never again war!”[17]

May the Holy Father’s plea for peace rise up and touch the hearts of all:  that each may lay down his weapon and be led by the universal noble desire for peace.

May peace always prevail! Peace be with you… AMEN.

[1] Luke 14:25-33

[2] Wisdom 9:13-18

[3] Pope Francis, Angelus Message, St. Peter’s Square, 1 September 2013

[4] Idem

[5] Pope Francis, Angelus Message, St. Peter’s Square, 1 September 2013

[6] Idem

[7] President John F. Kennedy, Address to the United Nations, 25th September, 1961

[8] Pope Paul VI, Address to the United Nations, 4 October, 1965

[9] Pope John Paul II, Address to the United Nations, 2 October 1979

[10] Pope Francis, Angelus Message St Peter’s Square, 1 September 2013

[11] Roman Missal, Communion Rite

[12] Pope Francis, Angelus Message, op. cit.

[13] Idem

[14] Idem

[15] Idem

[16] Idem

[17] Pope Paul VI, Pope John Paul II, Pope Francis

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