The Things that Make for Peace

by Scott Wright

As he came near and saw the city, Jesus wept over it, saying, “If you, even you, had only recognized on this day the things that make for peace! But now they are hidden from your eyes.” (Luke 19:41-2)

On October 12th, a statement signed by 751 Catholic leaders was sent to the White House and to Congress, urging the United States to dialogue with North Korea and Iran rather than risk a catastrophic nuclear war.

For weeks, as tensions between the United States and North Korea continued to rise, the Missionary Society of St. Columban in the U.S. and South Korea issued a statement, urging leaders of both nations to pursue dialogue with North Korea. Their message was clear: “The fate of millions of lives, the environment, and world peace is at stake.”

The dangers of another war are real, and the concerns about a nuclear exchange palpable. But as Christians we are called to hope, grounded in a Gospel commitment to peace and nonviolence. Faced with the ongoing threat of war, Jesus reminds us to bear witness to “the things that make for peace.” In the words of Fr. Tim Mulroy, director of the U.S. Region of the Columbans:

“We must not lose hope for the human family, and future generations of life on earth. Diplomacy has worked before with North Korea. It can again save lives and promote peace.”

Every day, as we look out on our world, we are overwhelmed by the immensity of human suffering. Millions of people are on the move, fleeing violent wars, crippling climate disasters, and extreme poverty. Many die along the way, crossing borders into strange and often hostile lands, or drowning at sea.

These are the things that make for war. What are the things that make for peace?

Peace and Nonviolence at the Heart of the Gospel

The desire for peace and the commitment to nonviolence has deepened on a global scale since the terrible destruction of the two World Wars of the twentieth century. The United Nations was born in their aftermath, with a desire “to save future generations from the scourge of war,” and a commitment “to promote a culture of peace.”

Rising over the horizon of hope is the Catholic Church’s strengthening of Jesus’ commitment to peace and nonviolence.

Beginning with the fall of the Berlin Wall and the collapse of communism, John Paul II affirmed “the nonviolent commitment of people who, while always refusing to yield to the force of power, succeeded time after time in finding effective ways of bearing witness to the truth.” He concluded with an urgent plea: “May people learn to fight for justice without violence” (CA 23).

Thirty years later, Pope Francis convened a conference in Rome on “Nonviolence and Just Peace,” and invited Pax Christi International, a global Catholic peace movement, to the conversation. Dozens of people, many of them working in the midst of civil war and conflict as pastoral leaders, missionary priests and women religious, and some bishops, responded. Their message was clear: we must stop the violence. We must end the wars.

A Candle Light Revolution for Peace

One of the participants at the Rome conference on “Nonviolence and Just Peace” was Fr. Pat Cunningham, a Columban missionary in Korea. He too affirmed the message of those gathered: “As Christians committed to a more just and peaceful world we are called to take a clear stand for creative and active nonviolence and against all forms of violence.”

One year ago this fall, he and his fellow Columbans joined millions of South Koreans in what came to be known as “The Candle Light Revolution.” People had lost confidence in their President because of domestic scandals, ultimately forcing her to resign. The protests drew people from all walks of life, and all ages, including families and children. By the end of six weeks, a million people holding candles lit up the night in the capital city Seoul.

The Candle Light Revolution was an inspiring example of the power of nonviolent resistance. What had been a domestic conflict was resolved peacefully with national elections. But now the regional tensions on the Korean Peninsula have become a major global threat, with the United States and North Korea threatening a nuclear war with each other.

This past summer, 122 non-nuclear nations gathered at the United Nations General Assembly in New York, and signed a historic treaty calling for the abolition of nuclear weapons. In the words of Pope Francis, the total elimination of nuclear weapons is “both a challenge and a moral and humanitarian imperative” of our time. As Christians, as citizens of every nation, we have a responsibility to bear witness to “the things that make for peace.”

One thing is clear, “peace and nonviolence are at the heart of the Gospel.” What we need today is a “Candle Light Revolution for Peace” in every neighborhood, every city square, and every nation in the world. We must magnify the cry for peace, reach across oceans, and hold our leaders accountable, for the sake of the children and their children, for the peace of our world.