Editorial: War—a radical repudiation – Pope John Paul II

Reprinted from The Common Good, no. 25, Spring 2002

We have come to Assisi on a pilgrimage of peace. We are here, as representatives of different religions, to examine ourselves before God concerning our commitment to peace, to ask him for this gift, to bear witness to our shared longing for a world of greater justice and solidarity.

We wish to do our part in fending off the dark clouds of terrorism, hatred, armed conflict, which in these last few months have grown particularly ominous on humanity’s horizon. For this reason we wish to listen to one other: we believe that this itself is already a sign of peace. In listening to one another there is already a reply to the disturbing questions that worry us. This already serves to scatter the shadows of suspicion and misunderstanding.

The shadows will not be dissipated with weapons; darkness is dispelled by sending out bright beams of light.

We are meeting in Assisi, where everything speaks of a singular prophet of peace known as Francis. He is loved not only by Christians, but by many other believers and by people who, though far-removed from religion, identify with his ideals of justice, reconciliation and peace.

Here, the ‘poor man of Assisi’ invites us first of all to raise a song of gratitude to God for his gifts. We praise God for the beauty of the cosmos and of the earth, the marvellous ‘garden’ that he entrusted to men and women in order that they might cultivate it and tend it (cf. Gen 2:15). It is good that people remember that they find themselves in a ‘flowerbed’ of the immense universe, created for them by God. It is important for people to realize that neither they nor the matters which they so frantically pursue are ‘everything’. Only God is ‘everything’, and in the end everyone will have to give an accounting of themselves to him.

We praise God, the Creator and Lord of the universe, for the gift of life and especially human life, which has blossomed on this planet through the mysterious plan of his goodness. Life in all its forms is entrusted in a special way to the care of man.

With daily renewed wonder, we note the variety of manifestations of human life, from the complementarity of male and female, to a multiplicity of distinctive gifts belonging to the different cultures and traditions that form a multifaceted and versatile linguistic, cultural and artistic cosmos. This multiplicity is called to form a cohesive whole, in the contact and dialogue that will enrich and bring joy to all.

God himself has placed in the human heart an instinctive tendency to live in peace and harmony. This desire is more deeply-rooted and determined than any impulse to violence; it is a desire that we have come together to reaffirm here, in Assisi. We do so in the awareness that we are representing the deepest sentiment of every human being.

History has always known men and women who, precisely because they are believers, have distinguished themselves as witnesses to peace. By their example they teach us that it is possible to build between individuals and peoples bridges that lead us to come together and walk with one another on the paths of peace. We look to them in order to draw inspiration for our commitment in the service of humanity. They encourage us to hope that, also in this new millennium just begun, there will be no lack of men and women of peace, capable of irradiating in the world the light of love and hope.

Peace! Humanity is always in need of peace, but now more than ever, after the tragic events which have undermined its confidence and in the face of persistent flashpoints of cruel conflict which create anxiety throughout the world. In my Message for Peace for 1 January 2002, I stressed the two ‘pillars’ upon which peace rests: commitment to justice and readiness to forgive.

Justice, because there can be no true peace without respect for the dignity of persons and peoples, respect for the rights and duties of each person and respect for an equal distribution of benefits and burdens between individuals and in society as a whole. It can never be forgotten that situations of oppression and exclusion are often at the source of violence and terrorism. But forgiveness too, because human justice is subject to frailty and to the pressures of individual and group egoism. Forgiveness alone heals the wounds of the heart and fully restores damaged human relations.

Humility and courage are required if we are to take this path. Our gathering today, in a context of dialogue with God, offers us a chance to reaffirm that in God we find pre-eminently the union of justice and mercy. He is supremely faithful to himself and to man, even when people wander far from him. That is why religions are at the service of peace. It is the duty of religions, and of their leaders above all, to foster in the people of our time a renewed sense of the urgency of building peace.

I turn now in a special way to you, my Christian Brothers and Sisters. Our Lord and Master Jesus Christ calls us to be apostles of peace.

With Francis, the saint who breathed the air of these hills and walked the streets of this town, let us fix our gaze on the mystery of the Cross, the tree of salvation sprinkled with the redeeming blood of Christ. The lives of Saint Francis, Saint Clare and countless other Christian saints and martyrs were marked by the mystery of the Cross. Their secret was precisely this sign of the triumph of love over hatred, of forgiveness over retaliation, of good over evil. We are called to go forward in their footsteps, so that the world will never cease to long for the peace of Christ.

If peace is God’s gift and has its source in him, where are we to seek it and how can we build it, if not in a deep and intimate relationship with God? To build the peace of order, justice and freedom requires, therefore, a priority commitment to prayer, which is openness, listening, dialogue and finally union with God, the prime wellspring of true peace.

To pray is not to escape from history and the problems which it presents. On the contrary, it is to choose to face reality not on our own, but with the strength that comes from on high, the strength of truth and love which have their ultimate source in God. Faced with the treachery of evil, religious people can count on God, who absolutely wills what is good. They can pray to him to have the courage to face even the greatest difficulties with a sense of personal responsibility, never yielding to fatalism or impulsive reactions.

Go forward into the future holding high the lamp of peace. The world has need of its light!

This extract is from a papal address to the world’s religious leaders 24 January 2002 in Assisi. www.vatican.va.

Pope John Paul II

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