Peace as a Radical Challenge

Author: Bishop Giampaolo Crepaldi


Bishop Giampaolo Crepaldi,
Secretary of the Pontifical Council for Justice and Peace

War is always unsettling: it emerges from the depths of the human heart and casts a sinister light on the heart's abysses. The war we have been living through in these last few months has been particularly unsettling, since we have been made to watch men take their own lives in order to kill others.

This has been an unsettling experience, because these violent acts have been committed in God's name. The categories with which humanity had, to some extent, previously catalogued war have been thrown into chaos, and peace has been radically challenged.

How could we respond to this radical challenge any other way than prophetically? Now more than ever is the time for peaceful faith in God (cf. Lk 24,36). It is a time when we should not get lost in current events, but focus on what is essential, look ahead beyond the night, and take fresh courage.

When the human heart reveals the depths reached by one who has lost track of the borderline between life and death, one must reaffirm the principle and concentrate on what comes first, to rebuild hope for what comes later, as the Holy Father writes in the Message for the World Day of Peace (n. 1). When such a violent and dramatic confrontation penetrates humanity and danger threatens everyone in such a terrible way, the Church has, first and foremost, to strengthen people's faith. This restores people's confidence in dialogue, in human brotherhood, in the search for peace and in the conversion and pacification of hearts. Since she is committed to charity towards all, the Church concentrates her gaze on those who suffer, wherever they may be.She resolutely reaffirms the value of dialogue, when people encounter tough difficulties in speaking to each other, and she shows everyone the light beyond the darkness.

This is the meaning of the statements the Holy Father has made on several occasions, starting on 12 September, the day after the massacre in New York: their meaning and value are those of prophetic messages, looking forward in hope against all hope. The Pope has insistently prayed, and asked people to pray. The invocations to Mary, "Queen of Peace", the rosary he recited with the bishops gathered for the Synod, the proclamation of a day of fasting and prayer on 14 December last, and the announcement of a day of prayer in Assisi, on 24 January next: these all show his firm intention to invite humanity in its hurt and suffering to look to the promised future, of which the prophet Isaiah wrote: "they will hammer their swords into ploughshares, their spears into sickles. Nation will not lift sword against nation, there will be no more training for war" (2,4).

In these last three dramatic months, we have all understood not only how deeply rooted war and peace are, but also how extremely complex they are. Historic enmity between different peoples adds to economic recriminations caused by great poverty, and the search for new political structures joins forces with the claims of cultural diversity. The international arms trade (about which the Pontifical Council for Justice and Peace published an important document) adds to the huge business deriving from the deadly traffic in drugs. Financial speculation is used as a lever to manoeuvre destabilising policies, and to that must be added the political strategies of the great powers. Terrorism itself is always execrable and is not to be explained away as the extreme expression of political or economic desperation. But it prospers thanks to the welcome it receives from peoples living in very difficult circumstances.

Given the growing complexity of the problem of war and the hopes for peace today, an equally complex but co-ordinated response is more urgent than ever. It needs to come from many players, each having its own specific characteristics. Attacks on the right to peace originate in numerous attacks on other human rights. If, as Gaudiumet Spes says, "peace is not simply the absence of war" (n. 78), then it must be recognised that threats to peace do not come only from weapons but, long before that, from various other causes that, precisely because they are complex, can be removed only by the joint action of several local and international agents. One can take comfort from the fact that, in many cases, people are embarking on this route. We can think, for example, of the new strategies of the United Nations Organisation, whose aim is to organise projects for development and to satisfy socio-economic rights: they are set up to involve not only national institutions and other international organisations, but also companies, religious communities, non-governmental organisations and many other elements of civil society. Such efforts all serve peace, too. When they work together to solve economic and social problems, people also learn how to work together for peace. Recognition should be given to what is being done to work out new strategies that will make "global governance" a real possibility. This is something that has been made increasingly necessary by the very fact that the problem of peace is so complex. In this sense, proposals to create new international organisations—and to improve those that already exist—must be taken seriously. Phenomena like emigration, or needs like care for the environment, may call for other innovations of this kind. It would be wrong to think these fields have no effect on the problem of peace, whose very complexity shows it to be the most acute symptom of a very deep and complex unease.

On 24 January, in Assisi, the representatives of other religions will also offer up their prayer for peace, and will commit themselves to living it as a radical appeal to be pursued together. The Pope stresses that, by doing this, he and they "will show that genuine religious belief is an inexhaustible wellspring of mutual respect and harmony among peoples; indeed it is the chief antidote to violence and conflict" (Message for the World Day of Peace, n. 14).

The radicality and complexity of peace stand out in Christ's message, which contrasts His peace with the peace the world gives (cf. Jn 14,27). This is not to despise even the tiniest signs of peace that the world knows, but to offer real peace, which can only be a gift of God welcomed in us and by us. The message of Christ also has a particular strength in making peace coincide with man's highest good, as Saint Augustine teaches in De Civitate Dei: "A good so great that nothing could be more pleasing to the ear, nothing more worthy can be desired, nothing better can in the end be obtained" (XIX, 13, 1; PL XLI, 640). Particular strength derives from the Christian vision of the human family's unity in universality, which is the basis for its proposal for universal co-operation for peace.  

Taken from:
L'Osservatore Romano
Weekly Edition in English
16 January 2002, page 6

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