Violence continues to throttle several parts of the world: in the past few days, bombings in Istanbul, Turkey and in the Coptic Cathedral in Cairo, Egypt; the escalation of violence in Aleppo Syria- are just some of the violent acts which have resulted in several deaths and many more injuries. In some places violence has become a way of life, highly institutionalised; little children grow up on stories of war, of how the ‘enemy’ needs to be dealt with. For several across the globe there seems to be nothing to hope for: one act of violence spawns another, for retaliation and revenge. Most are oblivious of the truth that ‘eye for an eye’ makes the whole world blind.
Pope Francis, in a style which is characteristic of his papacy, has once again sent out a powerful message to the world. It is a message for the Fiftieth World Day of Peace which will be celebrated on January 1st 2017; entitled ‘Nonviolence: A Style of Politics for Peace’, he emphatically states in this message that, “ violence is not the cure for our broken world.” He calls for a new style of politics built on peace and nonviolence, and at the same time for disarmament, the eradication of nuclear weapons and an end to domestic violence and abuse against women and children.
His message is addressed to the world’s peoples and nations, to heads of state and government, and to religious, civic and community leaders; in wishing all peace, Pope Francis says, “I pray that the image and likeness of God in each person will enable us to acknowledge one another as sacred gifts endowed with immense dignity. Especially in situations of conflict, let us respect this, our deepest dignity and make active nonviolence our way of life”. Though Catholic in expression, the message clearly transcends the narrow confines of any religion as he proposes an agenda “to banish violence from our hearts, words and deeds, and to becoming nonviolent people and to build nonviolent communities that care for our common home.”
Pope Francis insists that building a new politics of nonviolence starts in the human heart and the home. “ The family,” he says , “is the indispensable crucible in which spouses, parents and children, brothers and sisters, learn to communicate and to show generous concern for one another, and in which frictions and even conflicts have to be resolved not by force but by dialogue, respect, concern for the good of the other, mercy and forgiveness.” Certainly a moot point for reflection as Christmas approaches; do we reflect that the most sought after and given Christmas gifts to little children, are the ‘violent’ ones: ranging from toy guns to play-stations!
The message refers to icons of nonviolence and peace like Mahatma Gandhi, Khan Abdul Ghaffar Khan and Martin Luther King Jr. Mahatma Gandhi is regarded as the ‘Apostle of Non-Violence’ today; his birth anniversary on October 2nd is observed as the ‘International Day of Non-Violence’. The World Day of Peace is celebrated by the Church in India on January 30th, the anniversary of Gandhi’s assassination. Pope Francis also says, “ women in particular are often leaders of nonviolence, as for example, was Leymah Gbowee and the thousands of Liberian women, who organized pray-ins and nonviolent protest that resulted in high-level peace talks to end the second civil war Liberia”.
In our broken world, for Pope Francis, “Mother Teresa is a symbol, an icon of our times… She bowed down before those who were spent, left to die on the side of the road, seeing in them their God-given dignity; she made her voice heard before the powers of this world, so that they might recognize their guilt for the crimes – the crimes! – of poverty they created”
Pope Francis has been consistent in his references to those who are responsible for the wars and conflicts in the world today- and specially the military-industrial establishment, “because vast amounts of resources are diverted to military ends and away from the everyday needs of young people, families experiencing hardship, the elderly, the infirm and the great majority of people in our world”. He goes on further to say, “I plead for disarmament and for the prohibition and abolition of nuclear weapons: nuclear deterrence and the threat of mutual assured destruction are incapable of grounding such an ethics.”
The Beatitudes of Jesus is a ‘manual’ for peace and non-violence; “applying the Beatitudes, which outlines how to be blessed, good and authentic, is also a program and a challenge for political and religious leaders, the heads of international institutions, and business and media executives.”
In the concluding paragraph of his message Pope Francis exhorts, “All of us want peace. Many people build it day by day through small gestures and acts; many of them are suffering, yet patiently persevere in their efforts to be peacemakers. In 2017, may we dedicate ourselves prayerfully and actively to banishing violence from our hearts, words and deeds, and to becoming nonviolent people and to building nonviolent communities that care for our common home. Nothing is impossible if we turn to God in prayer. Everyone can be an artisan of peace ”
Nonviolence is indeed the way; something which we should begin putting into practice both individually and collectively from today!
(The writer is a human rights activist and is currently based in Lebanon and engaged with the Jesuit Refugee Service (JRS) in the Middle East on advocacy and communications. He can be contacted on firstname.lastname@example.org )(Published on 19th December 2016, Volume XXVIII, Issue 51)#