Promoting Peace

The Church’s Contribution

ROME, JAN. 8, 2005 ( Along with the feast of Mary, the Mother of God, the Church starts off the New Year with the World Day of Peace on Jan. 1. This is a recent tradition, started by Pope Paul VI in 1968.

In his message for the initial celebration of this day, Paul VI explained that he hoped the idea of a day dedicated to peace “is not intended, therefore, as exclusively ours, religious, that is, Catholic. It would hope to have the adherence of all the true friends of Peace, as if it were their own initiative, to be expressed in a free manner, congenial to the particular character of those who are aware of how beautiful and how important is the harmony of all voices in the world for the exaltation of this primary good, which is Peace, in the varied concert of modern humanity.”

At the same time the Pope warned against a merely superficial approach in favor of peace, that does not resolve the underlying problems behind conflicts.

“Peace cannot be based on a false rhetoric of words,” he said. “Nor can one rightly speak of peace where no recognition or respect is given to its solid foundations: namely, sincerity, justice and love in the relations between states, and, within the limits of each nation, in the relations of citizens with each other and with their rulers; freedom of individuals and of peoples, in all its expressions, civic, cultural, moral, and religious.”

Paul VI also explained that the spiritual foundation of peace flows from Christ. “Through His Sacrifice on the Cross, He brought about universal reconciliation, and we, as His followers, are called to be ‘peacemakers.'”

Integral part of the mission

The contribution of the Church to promoting peace is one of the themes covered in the recently published Compendium of the Social Doctrine of the Church. Citing John Paul II, the text explains: “The promotion of peace in the world is an integral part of the Church’s mission of continuing Christ’s work of redemption on earth” (No. 516).

Promoting “true peace,” continues the Compendium, “is an expression of Christian faith in the love that God has for every human being.” But a true peace “is made possible only through forgiveness and reconciliation” (No. 517). This process of forgiving after having suffered violence is not an easy task, but also one that is not impossible.

But forgiveness, adds the text, does not mean leaving aside the search for justice, nor does it imply blocking the path to truth. So the Compendium supports the work of international tribunals and juridical processes that help establish the truth about crimes committed in times of violence.

Courts are not enough, however. “It is through prayer that the Church engages in the battle for peace” (No. 519). Prayer not only opens up our hearts to God, “but also to an encounter with others marked by respect, understanding, esteem and love.” In a point particularly apt in this year dedicated to the Eucharist the Compendium explains that the Mass “is a limitless wellspring for all authentic Christian commitment to peace.”

Biblical foundations

The Compendium also contains a brief explanation of the biblical aspects of peace. “The Lord is Peace” states the Book of Judges, in 6:24. And, citing Genesis, the text notes that creation aspires to peace.

But peace is not merely some kind of bucolic tranquillity. It stems from the relationship between every human being and God, explains No. 488. This relationship should be founded on righteousness, but it has suffered due to original sin and since then violence, and separation from God, has come into the world.

Peace is also much more than the mere absence of war. It represents the fullness of life (No. 489). Peace is also not something entirely due to human efforts, but is a gift from God that results when we obey his divine plan.

Peace also has a messianic element, when a new world of peace will embrace the whole of nature. After all, according to the Book of Isaiah, the Messiah is called “Prince of peace.” In fact, the promise of peace runs through the entire Old Testament, finding its fulfillment in the person of Jesus. He broke down the wall of hostility among people and reconciled them to God. And before the sacrifice of Calvary Jesus spoke to his disciples of the unifying love with the Father, which he wishes to bestow on them.

“The words of the Risen Lord will not be any different; every time he meets his disciples they receive from him the greeting and gift of peace” (No. 491).

As well as reconciliation with the Father, peace is also reconciliation with our brothers and sisters, continues the Compendium. We find this in the text of the Our Father and the mission of peacemakers also forms part of the beatitudes.

“Working for peace can never be separated from announcing the Gospel, which is in fact the ‘good news of peace’ addressed to all men and women” (No. 493). And at the center of this Gospel of peace is Christ crucified, who has overcome divisions and brought the salvation of the resurrection to all.

Justice and love

Passing on to the social implications of the search for peace, the Compendium explains that it needs to be founded on a correct conception of the human person and requires the establishment of a social order based on charity and justice.

The idea of peace being the fruit of justice needs to be understood in the sense as a respect for the equilibrium of every dimension of the human person. This peace is threatened when human dignity is not respected and when civil life is not oriented toward achieving the common good. Love is also necessary, because while justice removes obstacles the positive building of peace results from love.

This building of peace requires a constant effort day after day. The Compendium adds that for it to be achieved everyone must realize they are responsible for its promotion. “To prevent conflicts and violence, it is absolutely necessary that peace begin to take root as a value rooted deep within the heart of every person.”

In this way the promotion of peace will spread from individuals to families and to groups within society, until it reaches all levels of the political community. The Compendium also calls for personal witness in favor of peace by those who renounce violence.

Along with a presentation of the traditional Church teaching on legitimate defense, the Compendium also devotes sections to condemning war, violence and terrorism, noting that their use only leads to further, and even more complicated, conflicts. As well, it calls for regulation of the arms trade and condemns the use of child soldiers.

A newer theme in international conflicts, the use of sanctions, is also mentioned briefly. The Compendium, in No. 507, calls for them to be used with care, and for their effects on the civilian population to be evaluated. Economic sanctions should “be used with great discernment and must be subjected to strict legal and ethical criteria.”

In his 1968 message Paul VI said, “The world must be educated to love Peace, to build it up and defend it.” A New Year’s intention that all can support.

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