Jan. 2017

Pope Francis' 2017 World Day of Peace Message: The Church's First Statement on Nonviolence in History


By Rev. John Dear

Pope Francis' annual January 1st World Day of Peace Message, called "Nonviolence-A Style of Politics for Peace," is astonishing. It is the first statement on nonviolence in the history of the Catholic Church, and I urge everyone to read it and take it heart for the days ahead.

We need to make "active nonviolence our way of life," Francis writes. "I ask God to help all of us to cultivate nonviolence in our most personal thoughts and values... May charity and nonviolence govern how we treat each other as individuals, within society and in international life. In the most local and ordinary situations and in the international order, may nonviolence become the hallmark of our decisions, our relationships and our actions, and indeed of political life in all its forms."

"Violence is not the cure for a broken world," Francis declares. "Today, sadly, we find ourselves engaged in a horrifying world war fought piecemeal. We know that this 'piecemeal' violence, of different kinds and levels, causes great suffering: wars in different countries and continents; terrorism, organized crime and unforeseen acts of violence; the abuses suffered by migrants and victims of human trafficking; and the devastation of the environment. Where does this lead? Can violence achieve any goal of lasting value? Or does it merely lead to retaliation and a cycle of deadly conflicts that benefit only a few 'warlords'?"

"Countering violence with violence leads at best to forced migrations and enormous suffering," Francis continues, "because vast amounts of resources are diverted to military ends and away from the everyday needs of young people, families experiencing hardship, the elderly, the infirm and the great majority of people in our world. At worst, it can lead to the death, physical and spiritual, of many people, if not of all."

"To be true followers of Jesus today also includes embracing his teaching about nonviolence," Francis writes. He quotes Pope Benedict who said that the command to love our enemies "is the magna carta of Christian nonviolence. It does not consist in succumbing to evil, but in responding to evil with good and thereby breaking the chain of injustice."

"The decisive and consistent practice of nonviolence has produced impressive results," Francis explains. "The achievements of Mahatma Gandhi and Khan Abdul Ghaffar Khan in the liberation of India, and of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr in combating racial discrimination will never be forgotten. Women in particular are often leaders of nonviolence, as for example, was Leymah Gbowee and the thousands of Liberian women, who organized pray-ins and nonviolent protest that resulted in high-level peace talks to end the second civil war in Liberia. The Church has been involved in nonviolent peacebuilding strategies in many countries, engaging even the most violent parties in efforts to build a just and lasting peace. Let us never tire of repeating: 'The name of God cannot be used to justify violence. Peace alone is holy. Peace alone is holy, not war!'

"I plead for disarmament and for the prohibition and abolition of nuclear weapons," Francis continues. "Peacebuilding through active nonviolence is the natural and necessary complement to the Church's continuing efforts to limit the use of force by the application of moral norms," Francis concludes. "Jesus himself offers a 'manual' for this strategy of peacemaking in the Sermon on the Mount. The eight Beatitudes (cf. Mt 5:3-10) provide a portrait of the person we could describe as blessed, good and authentic. Blessed are the meek, Jesus tells us, the merciful and the peacemakers, those who are pure in heart, and those who hunger and thirst for justice."

Francis' concluding words are a source of consolation as well as a challenge for us in the days ahead:

Active nonviolence is a way of showing that unity is truly more powerful and more fruitful than conflict. Everything in the world is inter-connected. Differences can cause frictions, but let us face them constructively and non-violently.

I pledge the assistance of the Church in every effort to build peace through active and creative nonviolence. Every such response, however modest, helps to build a world free of violence, the first step towards justice and peace. In 2017, may we dedicate ourselves prayerfully and actively to banishing violence from our hearts, words and deeds, and to becoming nonviolent people and to build nonviolent communities that care for our common home.

As we prepare for years of resistance to come, I hope we can take Pope Francis' global call for nonviolence to heart, help spread his message, and do our part to become nonviolent people, build the global grassroots movement of nonviolence, and uphold the vision of a new world of nonviolence. Thank you, God bless you,

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