The 2019 World Peace Day Message : “Good Politics is at the service of peace”
Throughout the parishes and dioceses of the Catholic Church all around the world, this solemnity of Mary Mother of God is celebrated as World Peace Day.
Mary, Mother of God, is the icon of co-operation between God and humanity. Mary mothered the “prince of peace” (Is.9.5), Jesus of Nazareth, the one who in the Sermon on the Mount linked peace with godliness : Blessed are the peacemakers, they shall be recognised as children of God (Mt 5.9).
It was Pope Paul VI who in 1968 initiated the World Day of Peace in the Catholic Church as an impetus for Catholics and indeed all people of good will to work for peace among all peoples and nations.
Since then the Holy Father has addressed a World Peace Day Message on New Year’s Day to the Church and to humanity. Over the intervening years the Popes have elucidated issues of vital significance for the furtherance and preservation of peace. Their messages have called on both leaders and citizens, especially those who are Christian, to promote and pursue justice and human rights so that peace building may characterise “the development of events to come” (World Peace Day Message, 1968) and shape the future of human development in the ways of justice and peace.
This year’s Message carries a simple title: Good politics is at the service of peace. Its subject is of critical importance for local, regional, national and international communities. One imagines that few would disagree with the assertion in the title!
Yet wars still prevail on the face of the earth. Currently there are more than forty active wars and conflicts adding to the humanitarian crises of our times. As is pointed out in this year’s Message, one in six children “is affected by the violence of war or its effects, even when they are not enrolled as child soldiers or held hostage by armed groups” (no. 6.2). This statistic brings home the pervasive and destructive current tragedy of war, fed by the scandal of the international arms trade and the lack of the necessary political will to implement agreed policies to curb such trade. The suffering and hopelessness of these children is a measure of the failure of politics.
It is easy of course, indeed too easy, to speak of failure in arenas beyond our own areas of personal responsibility. We forget however that there is a vital link between our personal attitudes, disposition and search for virtue in our lives and the ethical and moral fibre of society. Values and virtues instilled in our childhood and formative years shape how we relate to others and to society. Families, communities and societies which forge a sense of values and co-responsibility for the well-being of our fellow human beings are the architects of human development. They are the smithies of future of promise for the human family.
As we receive this year’s Message here in our diocese in Northern Ireland, searching questions are prompted by Pope Francis’s 2019 Message : does the absence of political institutions serve the public good? Is the political vacuum used and continued as a form of politics? Is the political impasse possibly considered by some to be a form of “good politics”, and if so, for what reasons? Is the political vacuum serving slowly, passively and imperceptibly the opposite of peace, and if so, must Christians and citizens of good will make their voices heard in the coming year on this vital matter? What are the possibilities for such responsible participatory political involvement by citizens? How do we inculcate in our homes, schools and colleges, Christian attitudes and knowledge which ground an option for justice and peaceful co-existence in society? Public consideration and discussion on such questions are of vital significance for the future of our society. Against this background of the current political vacuum and the uncertainty engendered by Brexit, it is heartening and prophetic that the four Church leaders and the Irish Council of Churches have set in train over the coming months a series of encounters involving politicians, civic leaders and citizens to foster discussion about the immediate and longer-term future of our society.
As this initiative unfolds, we might take some inspiration from the a text issued in 2016 by the Standing Committee of the French Bishops’ Conference, “In and Ever-Changing World, Recovering the Meaning of Politics”, where the authors write the following:
“There is a measure of sadness in our country today. A sadness to see ourselves in this state, unable to gather together to unleash the dynamism of which we are capable, whilst the trials and the uncertainties call for our unity. There is also the risk of seeing our society only in a negative light, forgetting how fortunate we are to live in this country and that many envy our quality of life. Are we going to continue despairing, opposing each other, doubting each other’s abilities, refusing also to see all that, most often in silence, makes life good and happy in this country …. There is much goodness hidden in our hearts and hope stemming from the actions of our fellow citizens. And for us Christians, there is an invincible hope, given to us by Christ, of a light that conquers all forms of darkness” (Dans un monde qui change, retrouver le sens du politique)
“May the Lord uncover his face to you and bring you peace” (Nu 6.26)
In the affairs of humanity, marked by the condition of original sin, peace remains a gift from God and a commitment on the part of individuals and nations. It requires ever greater and more determined pursuit in times of pressures on society and the mistrust arising from the causes of such pressure.
Pope Francis’ 2019 Message emphasises the importance of “trust” (no 5.2) in the exercise of politics and recognises that our epoch is marked by “a climate of mistrust rooted in the fear of others or of strangers, or anxiety about one’s personal security” (no 5.2). This mistrust, Pope Francis adds, “is expressed in attitudes of rejection or forms of nationalism that call into question the fraternity of which our globalised world has such great need”.
“ You are not a slave any more” (Gal 4.7)
As one thinks about this World Peace Day Message for 2019, whether it terms of the current risk factors to the world and its peoples or in terms of the challenges facing our local polity, a line from the second reading for this Solemnity reminds us of that by virtue of our baptism into the life of the living Christ we “are not a slave any more” (Gal 4.7). We are citizens of a new dispensation and we are called to live and to make real in our relations with others and in the structures of society the gospel values of that new dispensation, described in the gospels as the kingdom of God. As sisters and brothers in Christ, our identity is not that of passive recipients of the vagaries of history. Together we constitute a living community and presence, active in history and capable with God’s grace of working together for good and for countering the forces of evil and ignorance.
Pope Francis remarks that our societies need “artisans of peace” more than ever (no 5.2). Recent scholarly publications and scientific papers have certainly elucidated how technological and scientific advances have increased the existential risks to life and to the planet. They also underline the need for enhanced global governance to reduce the risks of misuse of technology.
Whilst these issues may appear beyond our personal spheres of influence, it is heartening to recall that many fellow Christians work in arenas of research, policy-making and politics which have determinative influence on these matters. Together as Christians we are called to constitute a saving and peace-building presence in our world. It is to this vocation the World Peace Day Message for 2019 and other World Peace Day Messages call us. Today we pray that we may respond to this gospel calling.
On this Solemnity of Mary, the Mother of God, theotokos, the one who carried God and the peace of God in her womb, we thank those who as politicians serve unselfishly the common good of peoples and we assure them of our prayers and civic support.
+ Noel Treanor is Bishop of Down and Connor