Following the unsettling wave of heavy violence over the past month from the police executions in New York to the large-scale school shooting in Pakistan, the ongoing advances of violence in Syria and Iraq and most recently the shootings in Paris, we turn our thoughts at the beginning of this new year to the urgency for peace in our world. The Church comes to our aid, for, since 1968 popes have been issuing messages for the World Day of Peace, celebrated on January 1.
Pope Francis’ Message for 2015
Pope Francis has recently issued “No Longer Slaves, but Brothers and Sisters,” his message for the 48th World Day of Peace which focuses on modern forms of slavery: human trafficking, exploitation of migrants, forced prostitution, and kidnappings and hostage situations, among others.
The Holy Father outlines the Christian understanding of the dignity of each person, the long history of slavery in human experience, and the ways in which this dignity is violated in the cycles of violence and exploitation of modern forms of slavery. He finally addresses a call to action and identifies the various levels of response from governmental and institutional level to the local and personal commitment to “combating and uprooting the culture of enslavement.” These are goals for peace that are demand our prayer and action.
Resources about Action and Prayer at Home and Abroad
The Vatican’s Pontifical Council for Justice and Peace website (www.iustitiaetpax.va) offers a wide range of articles, information of initiatives and conferences, and events concerning the call for peace all over the world.
So too, the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB) also has a wide range of on-line information and resources for further responses of the Church in the United States to human trafficking, anti-trafficking efforts, International Day of Prayer and Awareness of Human Trafficking (Feb. 8 12:00 pm National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception).
World Days of Peace and Blessed Pope Paul VI
Pope Francis joins a long line of powerful papal messages for World Days of Peace since the idea was first unveiled by Blessed Pope Paul VI on December 8, 1967. Pope Paul VI’s vision for a World Day of Peace to be held on January 1st of every new year was conceived as a message for the whole world to consider the building blocks of peace for all, not only for Catholics. He wrote for the first message of 1968:
§ “It is Our desire that then, every year, this commemoration be repeated as a hope and as a promise, at the beginning of the calendar which measures and outlines the path of human life in time, that Peace with its just and beneficent equilibrium may dominate the development of events to come.” (par. 1)
He gives as a reason for this day “the necessity of defending Peace in the face of dangers which always threaten it:
§ the danger of the survival of selfishness in the relations among nations;
§ the danger of violence into which some populations can allow themselves to be drawn by desperation at not having their right to life and human dignity recognized and respected;
§ the danger, today tremendously increased, of recourse to frightful weapons of extermination, which some nations possess, spending enormous financial means, the expenditure of which is reason for painful reflection in the presence of the grave needs which hinder the development of so many other peoples;
§ the danger of believing that international controversies can not be resolved by the ways of reason, that is, by negotiations founded on law, justice, and equity, but only by means of deterrent and murderous forces.” (par. 4)
By addressing the whole world in these World Days of Peace, as he had in his speech to the United Nations in New York in 1965 on the occasion of the 20th anniversary of that organization, Pope Paul VI further extended the papal role of being the moral voice for a global community.
Past World Messages of Peace: Wide Range of Topics
Over the years, the messages for World Days of Peace have covered a huge range of issues related to the sources of instability and war, and the building blocks of peace: truth in dialog, opportunities for education, stewardship of the environment, just economic relations between nations, religious freedom, et al.
Perhaps looking through the titles of past Messages for the World Day of Peace, you may find a topic related to your professional career, area of study or interest. Let the Church speak to you, too, on these matters of great importance.
§ Pope Francis: 47th – 48th Message for the World Day of Peace (2014-2015)
§ Pope Benedict XVI: 39th – 46th Message for the World Day of Peace (2006-2013)
§ Pope Saint John Paul II: 12th – 38th Message for the World Day of Peace (1979-2005)
§ Pope Blessed Paul VI: 1st –11th Message for the World Day of Peace (1968-1978)
Blessed are the Peacemakers, They Shall be called Children of God (Matthew 5:9)
To make a fresh commitment to peace this year build peace, we can each make our small (or large) sphere of influence and way of life more just, more respectful of others, more conducive to growth and peace, and less prone to conflict and revenge…in short more Christ-like and more noble, less worldly and cruel.
Working for peace begins at home with our immediate relationships, willingness to forgive, and attitudes of respect and care for the other. So too, how we interact with others in a grocery store, on the highway, in our workplaces also add to or take away from the roads to peace.
The wide-spread use of extremely violent video games and entertainment, pornography, and recreational drugs forges new ways that many seemingly “peaceful” people in our society contribute to the industry and culture of human slavery and exploitation. What fills the mind and the imagination prepares the heart and the appetite.
Behind so-called “victim-less crimes” are layers of violence and degradation – for both those who participate in the industries which produce them, as well as for the consumer who is consumed by them and left spiritually poor and “freely” enslaved. It is urgent that parents never fear to be vigilant and involved with their teenage children, despite the work and oppositions they may face!
At the beginning of this New Year, let us turn to Christ the Prince of Peace and ask Him for the wisdom and grace to make our own small part of the world more peaceful so that by prayer and action, we may learn how to bring more peace to the world, not less. May Our Lady Queen of Peace pray for us!
ADDENDUM: These and other texts of the the social doctrine of the Church are often unknown even to many faithful Catholics, despite their interest in activism and social responsibility. Our Catholic Culture section offers some introductory articles: