World Peace and the Church
Real peace is not and cannot be a negative concept; cannot be ‘absence’ of something; genuine peace is a highly positive spiritual element.
By Joseph Kalathil S.J.
The Church, as the oldest and the best organized body, spread across the whole world, with long experience of over two thousand years, is, perhaps, the only institution in the universe which can effectively bring about ‘World Peace’. People all over the world, therefore, look up to the Church with hope and expectation for establishing World Peace. Hence the Church has a responsibility of maintaining and promoting peace in the world. Today one can be proud that the headquarters of the Universal Church, the Vatican, is doing rather well to fulfil this God-given duty, not only by establishing good diplomatic relationship with the UN and with most of the republics of the world, including the ‘Islamic Republics’, but also by repeatedly exhorting people of all walks and proposing ways and means to imbibe and grow in peace, especially to cultivate and promote peace both within and with others, going beyond borders and limitations set by different forces.
The Vatican very specially deserves appreciation and praise for the excellent work it has been doing to maintain world peace. However, ‘every coin has two sides’ so too the Church and the Vatican; most of the efforts Vatican is making to promote World Peace, though it is very important and essential, remain on ‘higher’ level; greater majority of people live in lower level or rather ordinary level. To achieve World Peace totally, therefore, the effort the Vatican is making, has to go down to the ordinary sphere as well; especially to the grass-root level. Therefore, the national units like the Bishops’ Conferences and the regional units like the dioceses and local units of parishes need to make perspicacious efforts to bring peace to the smallest units like the families and transform local institutions, especially rural ones, into instruments of bringing peace among the common people and also need to initiate ‘peace building’ efforts, that too participatory ones, from people to people without any discrimination. We should not forget, nor should we neglect the fact that we are followers of Jesus Christ who was known as ‘the Carpenter’s Son’, who was born in a family which was below the ‘ordinary’, below the ‘poverty line’, worked with ordinary simple people in the grass-root level and chose the weak and insignificant ‘fishermen and tax collectors as His Apostles and disciples, sending them as ‘Ambassadors of Peace’ (Lk.10:5-6 ; Mt.10:12-13) and thus rightly ‘earned’ the name as the ‘Prince of Peace’ who said: “ Peace I bequeath to you, my own peace I give you, a peace which the world cannot give you, this is my gift to you. Do not let your hearts be troubled or afraid” (Jn.14:27). This is what we need to reflect upon when we speak about ‘World Peace and the Church’.
‘People of God’ is the ‘Church’ (Vatican II). The Pope, Bishops and Priests are representatives of the ‘People of God’ and the ‘Servants’ of Jesus Christ. When we reflect on ‘World Peace and the Church’, we need to begin with the ‘basic question’: ‘What is peace? Especially What is this ‘Peace’ which Jesus gives what the world cannot give? Here one needs to make a distinction between the real and genuine ‘Peace’ which JESUS gives and the ‘peace’ what the world can ‘give’. The world can create peaceful atmosphere, so that people can live ‘peaceful life’; the world can make friendly relations between the nations and republics which may prevent war or conflicts temporarily, which is essential for international peace or even ‘social Peace’, but it is not real ‘peace’. The normal idea of people is that peace is the absence of war. Because, when we reflect on peace we do not ask: What is peace? We rather take it for granted that we all know what peace is and so we are puzzled when we face the question: What is Peace? Vatican Second very clearly spelt out that peace is not merely absence of war and conflicts which can only facilitate to have a peaceful atmosphere.
Vatican II says: “Peace is the fruit of the harmony built into human society by its divine founder….. Peace is something that must be constantly built up. Peace will only be safeguarded by the discipline that each individual constantly exercises over himself. Peace of this kind cannot be obtained on earth unless the welfare of individual persons is carefully protected and unless men are prepared freely and trustingly to share with each other the riches of their own minds as well as their talents. A firm determination to respect the dignity of other men and other peoples as well as a deliberate practice of fraternal love, are absolutely essential if the real ‘Peace’ is ever to be achieved. Hence Peace is also the fruit of love, because love goes beyond what justice can provide” (Vatican II- Church in the Modern World, No.78).
‘Peace is the fruit of harmony’. One of the most important roles of a ‘religion’ is to promote ‘harmony’ especially communal harmony. Harmony essentially means understanding and tolerance of the ‘other’ which is different from ‘me’. Such attitude will emerge when the religious are strong in their own faith and see the differences as the gifts of God, given to learn from one another and to grow together. Such mentality is the result of one’s own inner security. When I feel insecure within myself, I will look at others who are different with suspicion and will take the differences as threats to self, rather than gifts given by God for our own mutual learning and collective growth. What we generally experience today all over the world is a mind-set that looks at differences as threats to oneself; consequently, efforts are being made to eliminate the ‘threat’; in the process of eliminating the ‘threat’, ‘religion’ is widely misused to divide people causing disharmony and fights. Thus, religion is seen today as a body causing division, conflicts, disharmony, riots or even war between nations. In fact, UN was established on October 24, 1945 to promote peace between nations. Church too was established, one may say, to establish peace not only between nations but also within nations and peoples.
‘Peace is the fruit of Love’. Genuine, selfless love originates from God (1 Jn. 4:7) and therefore, is a ‘spiritual element’; naturally the fruit of a spiritual element will also be a spiritual element. So if the responsibility of religion is to promote peace, it can fulfil it only when religion transcends from its lower ritualism to a higher spiritual sphere. Hence only spiritual religious can obtain real and genuine, lasting peace. Once a spiritual person imbibes such a peace nothing on earth can take it away from him. A very good example for such a person who obtained genuine lasting peace is Swamy Vivekanand who gave the historic Chicago speech on peace in 1893. The Americans tested him by cutting off electricity when Swamy Vivekanand started speaking and in the pitch dark, they shot guns into the air. While the audience ran away in panic, after about 15 minutes when the power was restored, Swamy Vivekanand was seen, standing there alone in silence, quietly and peacefully in a prayerful mood. So if a person attains real, genuine lasting peace, nothing on earth can snatch it away from him. Such peace is the fruit of real experience of God who is purely spiritual and as disciples of Jesus this is our duty today to give and promote such a peace which the world cannot give.
Real peace is not and cannot be a negative concept; cannot be ‘absence’ of something; genuine peace is a highly positive spiritual element. Such a spiritual level cannot be reached
without prayer and selfless service in a spirit of sacrifice. Therefore if one has to obtain genuine lasting peace, he/she should, every day, pray, should help others in need without any discrimination and should be ready to do sacrifices for helping others. Though these are human values and traditional Indian values, today such value systems have been so badly eroded from the society that nowhere can these be found, because humans have become very selfish and self-centred forming groups for their own defence and vested interest. However, the disciples of Jesus cannot afford to succumb to such anti-human mentality. Hence we need to be aware of the existential realities and need to stand up to face such misanthropic ideology which can be done only by promoting such good value systems among the citizens, especially among young students, through ‘Peace Education’.
One of the most important components of Peace Education is ‘Peace Clubs’ which are necessary to instil philanthropic peace-centred value systems in the young people of today. Hence it is a situational imperative to start Peace Clubs in schools, colleges, in churches and in neighbourhoods, among youth, among women, among senior citizens and others. These peace clubs also need to be different from the peace clubs which others start which are mostly centred around lots of external activities such as planting trees, cleaning roads and so on. Though they are very good in themselves, they would not be so effective to obtain genuine peace as prayer and selfless service with the spirit of sacrifice. Unless one obtains genuine peace, one would not be able to promote peace. ‘Nemo dat quod non habet’ - no one can give what he or she does not have; hence it is essential that first ‘I’ have real, genuine, lasting peace, and only then, ‘I’ can give it to others.
To help the people to imbibe the traditional peace enhancing human values, our peace clubs insist on doing the following every day: Every member of the peace club should pray every day and should do at least one act of charity and an act of sacrifice every day without fail. Reflecting with, learning from one another and sharing one’s experience with one’s own companions are very essential for healthy growth in Peace and also to grow together. Hence every peace club should have regular meetings of the members to share with others what one did and what he or she experienced when they did it. The ‘experience’ is very important. The minutes of every meeting should be recorded. This way the members of Peace Clubs support each other and will grow together in peace and mutual love, making the society and the universe a peaceful place to live and real peace will prevail.
It certainly, is not an easy job. However difficult it may be, the Church needs to make consistent efforts with perseverance to promote real and genuine peace to build up ‘World Peace’. This is one of the basic responsibilities of the Church and as the continuation of Our Lord and Master Jesus Christ who is known as the ‘Prince of Peace’ and the Christian community, known as ‘Peaceful Community’, the Church can become an effective means of establishing lasting peace in the world and the CHURCH will become a meaningful SACRAMENT of WORLD PEACE.
Today one can be proud that the headquarters of the Universal Church, the Vatican, is doing rather well to promote peace, not only by establishing good diplomatic relationship with the UN but also with most of the republics of the world.
One of the most important roles of a ‘religion’ is to promote ‘harmony’ which is possible when the religious are strong in their own faith and see the differences as the gifts of God, given to learn from one another and to grow together.
Peace is the fruit of real experience of God who is purely spiritual and as disciples of Jesus this is our duty today to give and promote such a peace which the world cannot give.
The disciples of Jesus need to stand up to face misanthropic ideology by promoting good value systems among the citizens, especially among young students, through ‘Peace Education’.
‘Nemo dat quod non habet’ - no one can give what he or she does not have; hence it is essential that first ‘I’ have real, genuine, lasting peace, and only then, ‘I’ can give it to others.
(Photo/Image Courtesy - S. Hermann & F. Richter from Pixabay)
(Fr. Joseph Kalathil is a Jesuit priest working in the international border areas of Punjab in socio-spiritual pastoral field. He also started 'Peace Mission' in 2011 to establish ' Peace between India and Pakistan. He was provincial of Jamshedpur Jesuit Province from 1990 to 1996. Currently he is building 'Loyola Ashram for Peace’ in Puri, Odisha. He was former Jesuit provincial of Jamshedpur Jesuit Province in Oct. 1990 to 1996.)
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