President John F. Kennedy, in his 1961 address to the United Nations, declared: “Mankind must put an end to war, or war will put an end to mankind.” More than a half-century later, we are still straddling the brink President Kennedy feared. Extremists of every stripe, in every corner of the world, threaten the peace that finds its origin in God.
This past weekend Pope Francis raised his voice of deep concern for the survival of peace for the human family. The events that are taking place in Syria are only the tip of an ever-increasing march towards more violence and war. Throughout the Middle East violence prevails. The same is true in many parts of the world, even in so-called “civil societies”.
The events in Syria are horrifying, but they are only the latest assault on peace in that beleaguered country. The conflict in Syria has claimed more than 110,000 lives and displaced six million of their citizens. The people of the world cannot remain silent while our sisters and brothers suffer.
In other parts of the world, including our own beloved country, attacks on peace may not necessarily be aimed at individuals, but against the human spirit and the love that God has planted in the human heart. Attacks against the unborn, neglect and indifference toward the elderly and people at the end of life, the manipulation of God’s creation in laboratories, constant threats to religious liberty, disregard for the poor, mistreatment of immigrants, are seen by many, not as acts of violence, but signs of “progress.” Yet, these offenses against the dignity of the human person strike at the very root cause of conflict, violence and even war. Disinterest or disregard for the created order results in “chaos” that goes against human nature, created to be in harmony with God, the human family and all of creation.
Amidst this deterioration of society and attacks against peace and harmony, the humble pastor from South America challenges all of us to return to the love of God; to once again experience an encounter with his unconditional mercy and love. Pope Francis’ appeal is not to Catholics alone, indeed he asks all people of good will, irrespective of religious beliefs, to join him in his quest for peace and harmony.
Pope Francis has urged world leaders to take courage and overcome “blind opposition.” He further pleads with the international community “to promote clear initiatives for peace in Syria, based on dialogue and negotiation.”
We should reject the illusion that peace can result simply from legislation, and much less that it can be achieved through acts of violence and war. The great proponent of non-violence, Mahatma Gandhi, said, “I object to violence because when it appears to do good, the good is only temporary; the evil it does is permanent.”
Is peace possible? Absolutely! But what can we do? Too often people feel helpless and hopeless with events that seem to overwhelm the world. All of us–Christians, Jews, Muslims, Hindus, Buddhists and women and men of good will, can begin with prayer. Once people discover the harmony with God, they not only regain hope, but also begin to discover, individually and as a community, new paths to peace.
Never underestimate the power of prayer. It is God who has created and who can, with our help, restore all creation to a new harmony and peace
Write to your Congressman, email the president, talk to your neighbors, but above all, engage in earnest prayer for peace. Pray in the quiet corner of your room; pray with your family at the dining table; pray with your friends and neighbors at your church, synagogue, mosque or temple. But pray, pray, pray.
Today we are called in a new way to embrace peace in our own lives, love and harmony with God, and peace with our neighbors. We can work together in the everyday events of life, to build a culture of peace through a culture of encounter and a culture of dialogue with each person we meet. Each one of us can decide to commit ourselves to be peacemakers, so that our world and the world that we leave to future generations will be a world ruled by peace and harmony.