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Patricia McCarthy, CND

Since 1967, the Catholic Church has celebrated the World Day of Peace on January 1st, appropriately the Feast of Mary, Mother of God. Mary gave birth to the Prince of Peace, the God of infinite love and the man who taught love of enemies as a path to peace.

During those 55 years, the United States has fought in the following countries: Vietnam, Zaire (now Congo), Lebanon, Grenada, Panama, Iraq, Kuwait, Saudi Arabia, Israel, Somalia, Haiti, Pakistan, Kosovo, Afghanistan, and Libya. This is only the United States. There have been hundreds of other inter-tribal conflicts, civil wars, gang wars, invasions and coups throughout the world.

It would seem that the Day of Peace hasn’t worked and prayers for peace have gone unanswered, even unheard. Perhaps so. It would also seem that the birth of Jesus Christ which we have just celebrated didn’t have much effect on the weary world he came to save. Perhaps so. Yet he came and he tried and he loved and he died and he rose. The least we can do in gratitude for his coming is to keep on trying and believing and trusting.

Pope Francis wrote a letter for this year’s World Day of Peace. He reminds us that “peace is both a gift from on high and the fruit of a shared commitment.” We wait in expectation that peace will be given us – however small it may seem – and we commit ourselves to actively seek peace in every aspect of our lives.

This year Pope Francis urges us to seek peace through intergenerational dialogue, in education and in the labor force. Ironically the ones who seemed to have suffered the most during the pandemic are the young and the elderly. The young have lost the opportunity to relate to others so they can learn who they themselves are, their education has been disrupted and their social activities primarily limited to the internet. The young are lonely. It is time for them to spread their wings and they are caged by quarantines.

The elderly are also lonely. It’s hard enough that their bodies are slowing them down, but their social contacts which are their lifelines to hope have been cut off. They feel abandoned. “The loneliness of the elderly is matched in the young by a sense of helplessness.” In our lives we need to find ways to connect these two vital parts of our social fabric. “Young people need the wisdom and experience of the elderly, while those who are older need the support, affection, creativity and dynamism of the young.” The union of these two groups is critical for the future of our beleaguered planet.

Education could well be the place where such intergenerational dialogue takes place. We wonder why wars are so prevalent and peace so rare. Just look at the difference worldwide in the amount of money spent on the military and on education. Even public schools are fund raising so kids can play sports. You never hear of the Air Force having a bake sale to raise money for a new fighter jet! The investment of time, talent and treasure on the things of war take precedence over the education of our children according to our budgets.

Even Catholic schools keep closing because money is unavailable. What does it say about the Church’s priorities?

Finally, labor is a critical factor to peace. We need to have meaningful work to support ourselves and our families and to feed our self-worth. Unemployment or underemployment leave people depressed and sick; and families become desperate. Domestic violence has drastically increased during the pandemic due to the stress of unemployment and financial insecurity.

Employers do have a responsibility to their employees, not just to their profit margins. Back in 1963 Pope John XXIII wrote his famous encyclical on peace: “Peace on Earth” weeks before his death. A key element in it was the right of every individual to have a decent job and the responsibility of employers to provide safe and fair working conditions and just wages so there could be meaning in the sanctity of work for everyone. The same tone was set by Pope Leo XXIII in his famous encyclical on the dignity of work in 1891, “On the Condition of Labor”.

The world has changed drastically since then but the principles are the same. We are responsible for peace, for the education of our young, for the care of our elderly and for ensuring the right of all people to have meaningful work. Perhaps the violence keeps coming as the wars have, but so also the work of peace keeps being proclaimed; in hope we keep on keeping on.

  • All quotes are from the January 1, 2022 message from Pope Francis for 55th World Day of Peace.

Article first published by the Rhode Island Catholic


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