Sunday, December 31, 2023

Archbishop Eamon Martin’s message for World Day of Peace, 1 January 2024

International Day of Peace - Wikipedia

Archbishop Martin: “the international community must urgently ask if war crimes have been committed in places like Gaza … with the constant and seemingly merciless bombardment of civilian populations, including defenceless women and children.”
The words of the ancient blessing offered to Aaron in today’s first reading express a hope that many of share for each other and for ourselves at the beginning of a new year:

“May the Lord bless you and keep you.
May the Lord let his face shine on you and be gracious to you.
May the Lord uncover his face to you and bring you peace.” (Numbers 6:22-27)

On this first day of January we pray in anticipation that, with the help of God’s grace, we can make the most of all the possibilities and opportunities that 2024 offers for the world and its people, including for our own families and loved ones.

Although all around us the world seems restless to get back to humdrum and “busyness” of everyday life, the entrance antiphon at Mass today reminds us that we are still in the season of Christmas:

“Today a light will shine upon us, for the Lord is born for us;
and he will be called Wondrous God,
Prince of peace, Father of future ages:
and his reign will be without end.”

Today is the World Day of Peace, but the New Year opens to news of ongoing bombing, death and destruction in Gaza and Ukraine. If ever we needed a reminder of the importance of hope, and of making resolutions to improve our world, we only have to read, watch or listen to any news report today. We yearn for the Lord’s blessing at the beginning of this new year, and especially for those bereaved, injured, displaced and traumatised by the brutal reality of “man’s inhumanity to man”. May the Lord bless them this day, uncover his face to them and bring them peace.

Ireland’s Church leaders reflect in our New Year’s message on what we call “the long walk to peace,” and on how important it is to “teach our children to love, respect and care for one another so that they learn that love is stronger than hate, good overcomes evil and light scatters the darkness.” Conscious that we are entering a new year in which war, violence and conflict now overshadow so many parts of our world, and knowing the efforts and sacrifices for peace that have been made on this island, “we encourage and support others to take those first steps down the road to peace, to walk in the way of reconciliation, to seek to heal and not hurt.”

For his message on this World Day of Peace, Pope Francis chooses to reflect on the impact of new digital technologies, and especially on what is known as “artificial intelligence”, on international stability, and on peace. Pope Francis says, “We cannot presume a priori that its [AI] development will make a beneficial contribution to the future of humanity and to peace among peoples. That positive outcome will only be achieved if we show ourselves capable of acting responsibly and respect such fundamental human values as “inclusion, transparency, security, equity, privacy and reliability.”

Pope Francis hopes that if artificial intelligence is used well, “it could introduce important innovations in agriculture, education and culture, an improved level of life for entire nations and peoples, and the growth of human fraternity and social friendship.” He adds that, “the way we use it to include the least of our brothers and sisters, the vulnerable and those most in need, will be the true measure of our humanity.”

Therefore, Pope Francis highlights the need for what he calls “algorethics” – cross disciplinary ethical dialogue, especially on the values which will shape the direction taken by new technologies, including artificial intelligence.

Pope Francis draws our attention to the “serious ethical questions related to the armaments sector,” in today’s world, and especially the risks posed by the “weaponisation of artificial intelligence. The unique human capacity for moral judgment and ethical decision-making … cannot be reduced to programming a machine which, as ‘intelligent’ as it may be, remains a machine.”

In this regard I believe we must not lose sight of the shocking impact that so-called modern warfare is already having in places like Gaza – nor of the destruction caused by endless use of rockets and bombs in built up areas often filled with displaced people who are desperate for safe shelter.

The international community must urgently ask if war crimes have been committed, or are currently being committed, with the constant and seemingly merciless bombardment of civilian populations, including defenceless woman and children; with the effective blocking of avenues to proper humanitarian support for the essentials of life like water, sanitation, food and fuel and apparent of access to essential healthcare and to measures for controlling the spread of hunger and disease. International humanitarian law is clear in that the use of lethal weapons in any war situation must not be disproportionate nor lead to the wholesale destruction of crucial infrastructure that is essential for the protection of human life and dignity.

We pray this morning for the courageous members of Ireland’s Defence Forces who are currently risking their lives while helping to maintain a fragile peace along the borders of South Lebanon; they are doing their best to prevent this conflict from spreading. Equally, at home and on an international level, Ireland’s leaders and others with influence should not be reticent in raising the cause of peace internationally in the European Union, as well as with the governments of the United States and the United Kingdom.

Huge and challenging questions such as these remind us of the choices and potential for good and evil that face us all at the beginning of a new year – especially when it comes to building a more positive and peaceful future for our children and grandchildren. We should never despair or give up on humanity – indeed the opposite is the case.  God’s grace and blessing is available to us today, and every day, in order to help make this world a better place.

Our Lord Jesus Christ’s life and ministry were based on faith, hope and love. In our New Year message, Ireland’s Church leaders quote the words written by Saint Paul in his letter to the Romans: “So then let us pursue the things that make for peace and the building up of one another” (Romans 14:19).

It is our New Year wish that, as ambassadors of Christ’s message of reconciliation, in 2024 we can all “model a better way of living and loving now and in the years to come.”