Most Rev. Diarmuid Martin,
Archbishop of Dublin
“This morning the Church celebrates for the 50th time the World Day of Peace. The idea of this celebration came from Pope Paul VI who chose to celebrate it on the first day of each new calendar year, a day on which people, young and old, of different beliefs and in different parts of the world, wake-up almost naturally hoping for a better and more peaceful new year.
Paul VI’s initial World Day of Peace celebration came at what was a crucial moment in the era of the Cold War. It was a moment marked by a worldwide escalation of social conflicts and rejection of military and bureaucratic elites. It was a moment in which a broad movement emerged all over the world in opposition to the Vietnam War. This opposition focused on the limits of military intervention and of forms of exercising power without the participation of people. It also marked the rise of new nonviolent movements of social change.
Fifty year later now, Pope Francis proposes for our reflection the theme Nonviolence: A Style of Politics for Peace. He does so at another critical and transformative moment in the search for world peace. He speaks of living today “in a world war fought piecemeal”. There are wars across Africa and the Middle East. The relations between the great powers are in flux. There is an in-going precariousness in which differing sides claim to be working for peace: but peace only on their terms. Dialogue becomes difficult because the premises for dialogue are undermined by hidden vested interests. Peace agreements and truces last only days. Groups and factions on all sides have no difficulty in getting their hands on the most deadly of weapons, ready to start violence anew at a moment’s notice.
Fifty years on from Pope Paul VI’s first appeal, we have also seen so many changes, as many new hopes appeared. The cold war as we knew it came to an end. Here in Europe the desire for unity among people grew. The hope of an end to ideologies and an end to war sprung up. The names of the various dictators who held power on the right and the left are slowly being forgotten. Those who are remembered with honour are those often nameless men and women of vision who knew that the force of integrity and honesty and justice was stronger than the vast array of weaponry and the ruthless art of suppression which the dictators felt kept them secure.
There is then a phrase in Pope Francis’ Message which brings me closer to home. He was speaking about the international scene but his words apply directly to the ongoing situation of violence in this city.
“Can violence achieve any good of lasting value?” he asks. “Or does it merely lead to retaliation and a cycle of deadly conflicts that benefit only a few warlords?” All we need to do is to change the word “warlord” to “drug barons”. Violence only leads to retaliation and further grief and those who seem to think they are stronger by resorting to violence are left in an insecurity which they know no sophisticated modern security systems can really protect them or their loved ones.
Will these people ever learn or are they totally blinded by their own selfish interest in the drug trade, a trade in death which is of such enormous financial interest that it leaders feel that they must kill to keep their power and perhaps, according to news reports, even hire killers from aboard to carry out their evil work. Gangland violence must stop, but not in such a way as to strengthen the trade in drugs. A truce among drug barons could easily be used to enhance their commerce of death to the further detriment of so many young, innocent and vulnerable young people whose lives are ruined and of their loved ones whose hearts are broken.
There is a dangerous culture of violence in Ireland which is difficult to understand. I am saddened by the growing number of stabbings in the past year, at times by very young people. What lies behind such foolish violence? Is there a growing anger being built up in the hearts and minds of young people? Is it another form of emptiness and frustration which blinds people to the damage that can be done also to themselves by a moment of folly?
How do we teach a culture of nonviolence to our young people? We have great young people. I spent the Christmas period among family and friends both here and in Rome and I have been moved to listen to children recite their Christmas poems: they are poems of simple words and ideas about Christmas being a time when peace is possible, when goodness is better than hatred. I have also in these days watched generous teenage volunteers turn out to support the needy and to assist in feeding the homeless. How can we transform that goodness that is in our young people into an enduring new culture of nonviolence?
The first thing that needs to be said is that nonviolence is not a sign of weakness but a sign of being strong. It is a sign which recognises that lasting peace can only be achieved by peaceful means. It is a sign of working for justice through being just, living justly and being alongside those who suffer injustice. But nonviolence is not just a nice idea for Christmas; it must become reality around which people can coalesce every day.
Nonviolence: A Style of Politics for Peace is the title of Pope Francis’ Message. A politics for peace belongs not just on the global level. We need a politics for peace in every country and in every locality. There is no part of the world which is not marked by brokenness. Here in Ireland there is the brokenness caused by homelessness but there is also the brokenness caused by hopelessness in so many forms. A situation of brokenness will not be resolved by a politics of brokenness. Certainly politics must involve a plurality of approaches and cherish difference, but there must also be an overarching culture of national purpose.
Our homes and schools must become the real seedbeds for nonviolence. Young people must learn the call to service from an early age and learn that divisions can be overcome and that tolerance and respect, but also patient understanding and mercy, are the strong weapons for relationships that endure, in the personal as well as in the social and political sphere.
But behind the doors of families there is also often physical violence and sexual violence. Some act as if human sexuality is just about personal satisfaction, whereas it is about a love, tenderness and a mutual respect which enriches human relations, and indeed can reflect the lovingkindness of our God. The upcoming World Meeting of Families which will be held in Dublin in 2018 must place at its centre a renewal of the power of families to be places where love and sharing, peaceful relations and reconciliation can be practiced and learnt.
The Church herself must witness to the fact that the God revealed in Jesus Christ at this Christmas season is a God of mercy who reaches out to all and from whose love and care no one is excluded. The Church must rediscover a language which reaches out to those who fail not through the violence of humiliation and condemnation but through the tender embrace of mercy and forgiveness.
Finally the Church must learn to announce Jesus Christ as the source of hope, for those to whom hope does not come easy. The Church celebrates this morning also the Feast of Mary, Holy Mother of God. It recalls the Motherhood of Mary, the attitude in which Mary accepted the call to be mother to the one who would bring lasting peace and challenge all of us to be men and women of peace in our times and for our tomorrow.
Peace is fundamentally a gift of the God of Peace to whom we raise our prayer today for all victims of violence and for all who work for the promotion of peace.”