Everyone Can Be an Artisan of Peace!

By Scott Wright, Director

On January 1, Pope Francis delivered his annual World Day of Peace message. He chose for his theme, on this 50th anniversary of the Peace Day message, “Nonviolence: a Style of Politics for Peace.”

His message is all the more timely and urgent, given a world torn by war and violence.

For years now, daily accounts of the suffering of civilians in Aleppo, Syria and for months, tweets from a 7-year-old girl named Bana, pleading for help, have brought the plight of Syrian civilians and refugees into the homes and hearts of millions of people around the world.

These messages have not fallen on deaf ears, but there is a sense of powerlessness and despair with regard to what we can do to help, and how to respond. A world grown weary of war struggles to find an effective way to stop the violence and to bring peace.

Pope Francis is not naïve to the challenges of abolishing war, nor were his predecessors. Fifty years ago, on the Feast of St. Francis, Pope Paul VI addressed the United Nations General Assembly and made a passionate plea to the nations of the world in these words: “War no more, war never again!” That plea was repeated by Pope John Paul II twenty-five years later. And now again, in his message of peace, Pope Francis calls on nations and people across the world to “make active nonviolence our way of life.”

We live in “a broken world,” he acknowledged, torn by “two deadly World Wars, the threat of nuclear war and a great number of other conflicts” that today create a world of “piecemeal” violence, causing great suffering to people everywhere, particularly women and children.

Jesus, too, lived in a time of violence, and taught that the primary “battlefield,” “where violence and peace meet, is the human heart.” Recalling the example of Jesus, the Sermon on the Mount, and the examples of Christians through the ages, Pope Francis added: “To be true followers of Jesus today also includes embracing his teaching about nonviolence.” This is a “radical” claim, in the true sense of the word, meaning “returning to the roots” of our faith, i.e. returning to Jesus.

As we begin this New Year, we are encouraged, not only by the Gospel witness of nonviolence of those whom Pope Francis holds up to the light – Mahatma Gandhi, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., Dorothy Day, Thomas Merton – but also by those examples in our midst, in our families, neighborhoods, and faith communities, as well as the people we serve and the Columban community around the world.

Wherever and whenever we feed the hungry, visit the sick, welcome the stranger, we are following Jesus’ example of active nonviolence. Wherever and whenever we advocate for justice and help to create a world where people have access to adequate food and healthcare, dignified employment and housing, we are following the Gospel invitation to do justice, love mercy and walk humbly before our God.

Wherever and whenever we work for peace and “make active nonviolence our way of life,” we are helping to create a world where one day war, like slavery, will be abolished and the prophet Isaiah’s dream will become a reality: “They shall beat their swords into plowshares, and their spears into pruning hooks; nation shall not lift up sword against nation, neither shall they learn war anymore” (Is 2:4).

* Pope Francis, Appeal in Assisi, September 20, 2016