Building a Culture of Peace

By Scott Wright, CCAO Director

On December 8, Pope Francis opened the doors of St. Peter’s Basilica in Rome to begin a “Holy Year of Mercy.” It was a fitting response to what has been a year of increasing violence around the world.

Mercy and compassion are words that Pope Francis shares often, and they are practices that are at the heart of the great Abrahamic faith traditions: Judaism, Christianity, and Islam. Peace, not war is at the heart of our faith traditions. That is the challenge to which we are all called today: to seek the way of peace, and not be consumed by the spiral of violence.

This year we introduced a new eight-part series on The Way of Peace in our monthly E-Bulletin. It was developed by the Columban Centre for Peace, Justice and Ecology of Australia and New Zealand, and adapted by the Columban Center for Advocacy and Outreach for a U.S. audience. We began with a reflection on “Building a Culture of Peace.”

A culture of peace means creating structures which promote peace, justice and the integrity of creation. Developing a culture of peace means changing individual and societal attitudes which see violence as the only response to violence. A culture of peace is based on justice and human dignity, as well as mutual trust and respect for differences.

This past year we have witnessed horrific acts of violence and tragic loss of life: from Syria and Iraq to Israel and Palestine in the Middle East, to Pakistan and Myanmar in Asia and Paris and San Bernardino in Europe and the United States. The cycle of violence does not discriminate: Christians, Muslims and Jews – as well as ethnic minorities – have all been targeted, as hatred and revenge grows wider and reverberates around the world, enveloping the merciful and just, the compassionate and the generous in its wake. And so the spiral of violence continues.

What has been the Church’s response? Since he was named bishop of Rome in 2013, Pope Francis has been an ardent voice for peace:

“Today, 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! It is a cry which declares with force: we want a peaceful world, we want to be men and women of peace, and we want in our society, torn apart by divisions and conflict, that peace break out! War never again! Never again war! Peace is a precious gift, which must be promoted and protected.”

On April 13, 2015, the Columban Center for Advocacy and Outreach joined Pax Christi International and faith-based organizations and religious communities around the world to commemorate the fifth annual Global Day of Action on Military Spending. In the words of the campaign organizers, “The main aim of this initiative is to press for an end to the over-funding of military establishments and for the creation of new funds to tackle human insecurity and common threats to the planet.” Global military expenditures for 2014 are estimated to have cost 1.8 trillion dollars, according to the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute (SIPRI).

Pope Francis has been especially vocal on the need to support both disarmament and development. In a message that resonates with the commitment of Columbans working towards peace through interreligious dialogue, the pope said: “Give up the way of arms and go out to meet the other in dialogue, pardon and reconciliation, in order to rebuild justice, trust and hope around you!”

Two of the obstacles to peace are the poverty and the inequality that exist throughout the world, and within every country, including our own.

We see the faces of poverty in our world every day, and the impact of inequality on the poor and their children who lack access to proper housing, education, healthcare, and meaningful employment. We see the ways in which poverty and inequality create conditions of violence for people who are hungry, displaced by war or natural disasters, and fleeing from criminal gangs or human traffickers.

The foundations of peace are manyjustice and mercy, reconciliation and forgiveness, reverence for life and reverence for creation.

Pope Francis, in his encyclical “On Care for Our Common Home,” reminds us that we have a special responsibility to the poor and to the planet: “A true ecological approach always becomes a social approach; it must integrate questions of justice in debates on the environment, so as to hear both the cry of the earth and the cry of the poor.” (Laudato Si’ 49)

For nearly 100 years, Columbans have worked tirelessly in countries torn by violence and war to heal, reconcile, build bridges, and create mutual understanding through prophetic dialogue. Central to this mission is a commitment to inter-cultural and inter-faith dialogue, solidarity with marginalized people and the exploited earth, and building communities of peace. More and more, peace has become an urgent need and a prophetic witness of the Church in a world torn by violence and war.