New Year Message 2022 from Bishop Noel Treanor

Solemnity of Mary the Mother of God

New Years Day 2022

St Peter’s Cathedral, Belfast

Bishop Noel Treanor


Readings : Num 6.22-27 ; Ps 66.2-3,5, 6; Gal 4.4-7; Lk 2.16-21.

“May the Lord uncover his face to you and bring you peace” (Num.6.26)

The first day of the New Year! And the focus in the calendar of the Catholic faith community is on Mary, as Mother of God. The woman who made that earth-shattering decision to bear, mother and nurture God’s Son, Jesus. The young girl who risked her reputation as she said ‘yes’ to the angel, Gabriel.  Walking with God takes guts. It involves ‘pondering’, puzzling the mysteries and contradictions of life and faith in one’s heart, as Mary did.  It involves living courageously in faith with the grey, the unclear, with the intractable and unresolved, as we Christians keep the flame of faith, hope and charity alight in our fractious world and societies.

This first day of the New Year, when the Church celebrates Mary’s mothering and nurturing of Jesus, was designated as a day of prayer for world peace by Pope Paul VI. And since then, each year the Holy Father has issued a World Day of Peace Message.

This year Pope Francis builds his message around three key issues for making and keeping peace. They are : Dialogue between generations,  Education and Work.  These three he describes as “tools for building a lasting peace”. 

Is such a lasting peace possible on this earth, one might ask!  Surveying human history in the light of this question is a chilling exercise. And in our world today : we have seen those reports from Tigray and Ethiopia, from Myanmar, the Ukraine-Russian border. We were deeply upset by the plight of those forced migrants on the border of Belarus and Poland. We are witnesses to the oppression of human rights and freedoms in Hong Kong, the human suffering of migrants. And we know too of the trafficking of human persons and those suffering the pain of hunger and famine because of drought and climate change. The list goes on.

Yet humanity is not powerless; change is possible.  Examples of human goodness and loving care for the suffering neighbour abound on our planet. At the political and economic levels institutions were set up and exist to make and consolidate peace in the world.  We can think of the post-World War II Bretton Woods institutions, the United Nations and the unique and new initiative of the European project in the form of the European Communities, become the EU.  Alas, at this time in human history when the functioning of such multilateral institutions is urgently needed, they have been weakened by processes and forces which prioritise self-interest over the common good of the human family and the sharing of the common resources of humanity.

A new cultural paradigm for a social covenant

Against this background of the dominance of self-interest over solidarity, in this year’s World Peace Day Message, Pope Francis issues a call to all people of good will to “forge a new cultural paradigm” (no.2.6) and thereby shape a “social covenant” (no.1.4). This category of a social covenant, as distinct from a social contract, is elaborated in the recent encyclical, Fratelli Tutti. There Pope Francis underlines the fact that “a realistic and inclusive social covenant must also be a ‘cultural covenant, one that respects and acknowledges the different worldviews, cultures and lifestyles that co-exist in society” (FT 219). Thankfully, though alas at a high price, here on this island we have made it to a point in our history and civic consciousness, where it is possible to respond creatively to the challenge set out in these sentiments.

In human affairs however there are no lasting certainties or guarantees of peace.  Peace, goodness, right living, the pursuit of values and the exercise of virtue are the outcome of choices, indeed of compromise sometimes, and often of the struggle to forgive.  They are the outcome and the genetic code of the social covenant to which Pope Francis refers.

Inter-generational dialogue, Education, Work

In this year’s Message he points up three vital elements for the work of peace. The first marries the wisdom of memory with the dynamism of youth. Inter-generational dialogue and discussion “should be the driving force behind a health politics” (no.2.5).

The second critical element focuses on teaching and education as drivers of peace (no.3). Some key points made in this respect are worth our attention.

Firstly, the value placed on the role of teachers and all involved in education. The text rightly signals that “teaching and education are the foundations of a cohesive civil society capable of generating hope, prosperity and progress” (no.3.1).

Then, in the light of the levels of child poverty here in Northern Ireland and worldwide Pope Francis reiterates a call he has made in other contexts to invert “the proportion of public funds spent on education and weaponry” remain a shrill clarion call. 

As we enter a New Year in these very difficult and trying times, let us salute and thank all involved in all our schools, colleges and third level institutions for their work, especially those engaged in the formation of teachers for the future.

Further to inter-generational dialogue and education, Pope Francis profiles a key theme in the Social Thought and Teaching of the Church that we all identify with. It is the foundational role of labour, work and social protection systems in building justice, peace and solidarity “in every community” (no.4.4).

The Message is not blind to the horrific and tragic suffering of so many of the world population.  It recognises the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on the labour market (no. 4.2) on the informal economy (no.4.3), the plight and suffering of migrant often caught up in various forms of slavery (no.4.3).

It states bluntly that “only one third of the world’s population of working age enjoys a system of social protection”  (no.4.3).  In the face of these realities Pope Francis calls on companies, institutions, consumers, civil society and entrepreneurial entities (no.4.6) to promote the “fundamental human rights of workers” (no.4.6.) and recalls that all who work to promote a fair balance between economic freedom and social justice “can find sure guidelines in the Church’s social doctrine” (no.4.6).

As we enter a new year, 2022, an election year here in Northern Ireland and as we carry together the burden of the pandemic, what better ingredients for building a future for all than the three pulsar points of Pope Francis’ World Peace Day Message:

  • dialogue between youth and age which fertilises future hope with the wisdom of experience,
  • investment in education and training for youth and for all stages of life
  • and our political leaders doing everything possible to promote economic development and so create jobs and employment and a future for families.

And on this New Year’s Day we make his closing words our own and address them as he did, for, as a fellow Christian of another Church tradition once remarked to me  : “Pope Francis speaks for us all”: 

“I renew my thanks to all those who continue to work with generosity and responsibility in the areas of education, safety and protection of rights, in supplying medical care, in facilitating meetings between family members and the sick, and in providing economic support to the needy and those who have lost their jobs. I continue to remember the victims and their families in my prayers.”

“To government leaders and all those charged with political and social responsibilities, to priests and pastoral workers, and to all men and women of good will, I make this appeal: let us walk together with courage and creativity on the path of intergenerational dialogue, education, and work.  May more and more men and women strive daily, with quiet humility and courage, to be artisans of peace. And may they be ever inspired and accompanied by the blessings of the God of peace!” (no.4.7-8).