The challenge of peace

[This is the reflection I gave at the interfaith peace service today .. it went pretty well. Maybe there is something to this whole becoming a groovy sister thing!]

"The dread image of war overshadows the world, and absorbs nearly every thought. The strongest and wealthiest nations are in conflict. .... Who would think that the nations, thus armed against each other, are all descended from one ancestor, share the same nature, belong to the same human family? … And while the mighty hosts are contending in the fury of combat, cities, families, individuals are being oppressed by those evils and miseries which follow at the heels of war; day by day the numbers increase of widows and orphans; the paths of commerce are blocked; the fields are left untilled; the arts are at a standstill; the rich are made poor, the poor are made destitute, all are made to mourn."

These are the words of Pope Benedict. Not our current Pope Benedict XVI mind you, but Pope Benedict XV who wrote them 92 years ago at the outbreak of World War I.

Pursuing peace and peacemaking are not new concepts in the Christian tradition. Each Sunday Christians the world over share a sign of Christ's peace with their family, friends and neighbors in the pew. And after all, it was Jesus who said, "Blessed are the peacemakers for they will be called children of God."

We are all children of God, one family. This is at the core of our call to be peacemakers. God does not want us to be a family at war. Rather, our loving creator calls us to help craft a world where all people are able to live life fully, to realize their potential, and to coexist peacefully and joyfully.

But let's go back to those words of the wise man from Nazareth … He does not say, blessed are those who like peace. Or blessed are those who love peace. Or even blessed are those who live in peace. Rather, the Gospel of Matthew tells us that Jesus said blessed are those who MAKE peace.

More than anything then, this is a challenge and a call to action. This challenge is perhaps greater today than ever before. 92 years ago Pope Benedict XV observed a world where cities, families and individuals were oppressed by the miseries of war and the numbers of widows and orphans increased each day.

One wonders what he would think today, in a world where we have become desensitized to and tolerant of the horrors of war, while at the same time the impact of war on civilian populations has increased drastically.

At the start of the 20th Century, civilians accounted for 5% of war dead.

During World War II, civilian casualties grew to 65% of the victims of war.

By the early 1990's, this number had grown to over 75%.

Today, over 90% of those killed in war are civilians – including in Iraq.
Our Religious Leaders have continued to speak out against war and for peace. Before the beginning of the Iraq War, it was Pope John Paul II who said "No to war! It is always a defeat for humanity."

The cost of war is not measured only by the loss of human life. Worldwide, $1 trillion, 34 billion dollars went toward military expenditures in 2004, almost half of this by our government.

In his January World Peace Day message earlier this year, the current Pope Benedict XVI made the connection between military spending and global poverty. He called on the world's nations to decrease military spending and instead employ those resources in development projects to benefit all people, but especially the poor.

The challenge to be peacemakers is clear. But given the current global climate and war making activities of our own government, what is the average person of faith to do? We do not have access to the global stage. We may wonder impact we can have in making a lasting peace? I'd like to invite two great minds and souls of the 20th Century to guide us in answering this question … Henri Nouwen & Dorothy Day.

Henri Nouwen tells us that: "Nobody can be a Christian without being a peacemaker. The issue is not that we have the occasional obligation to give some of our attention to war prevention or that we should be willing to give some of our free time to activities in the service of peace. What we are called to is a life of peacemaking in which all that we do, say, or think is part of our concern to bring peace into this world. … Peacemaking is a full-time vocation that includes each member of God's people."

Dorothy Day invites us to ponder this: "There must be a disarmament of the heart so we can find our true vocation as children of God and thus as peacemakers."

Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called children of God. To be peacemakers we must disarm or own our hearts … in our families, our workplaces, our places of worship, and in the public square. Only then will we be fulfilling our true vocation as children of God. Only then can we hope to be a world at peace.

The challenge is clear. The question we are left with is, are we up to the challenge?


Estefanía said...

It´s amazing how life gives the chance to connect great people at the most unexpected places. In such manner, I would like to share a small account of yesterday´s happenings::

My mom´s goddaughter´s wedding was held in Caracas (Venezuela, where I live). I had the chance of meeting and speaking with Sisters Virginia Searing and Marie Tolle, members of the Sisters of Charity who live and work in Guatemala in many projects, one of them a mental health program for indigenous Mayan people who are trying to heal wounds inflicted by the years of civil war. Both came because Sr. Virginia is the groom´s aunt.

At the reception, we had a wonderful and long conversation about their work, volunteering and Holy Week feasts in Guatemala, among other subjects. I also told them about you and the blog - maybe they´ll visit in the near future :D They met Sr. Helen Prejean while they were living in New York, a few years back.

And also, they personally know Ms. Rigoberta Menchú, who is thinking about running for the Guatemalan presidency - not for the moment, the sisters said. We exchanged emails and will keep in touch, of course.

Peace to you Susan, and all your visitors,

Richard said...

The connection between arms spending and poverty was also noted by Pope John XXIII in Mater et magistra when he decried the arms race and said that arms spending contributes to poverty; peace would be possible if economic imbalances among nations were righted. This theme of economic justice stretches back to Rerum Novarum and Pope Leo XIII way back in 1891.

Susan Rose, CSJP said...

Good points Richard.

And cool Estefanía! How amazing to think my blog was a topic of conversation at a wedding in Venezuela!

Kathy O'Leary said...

I am struck most by the statistics that you quote regarding civilian casualties. Can you please share the source? I would like to use this in an upcoming peace vigil.

Susan Rose, CSJP said...

I've seen the stats a number of places, but they come from the UN Development Fund for Women.

I can't find the original source online, but it's this report from Save the Children (https://www.savethechildren.org/publications/sowm2002.pdf) lists the citation as UN Development Fund for women. “Violence Against Women Around the World,” Fact Sheet. (New York: 1999.)

Joan Chittister has also quoted this in articles and speeches as being from the UN.

Unionsbuerger said...
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Susan Rose, CSJP said...

Hmmm... spam again. I hate getting spam comments. Be warned you spammers (although I recognize you are most likely an automated computer program) ... I will just delete you.