We leave the Christmas season and enter a New Year on this Solemnity of Mary the Mother of God. As we close the Christmas 2013 octave together with the Catholic community throughout the world on the note of Mary’s motherhood of God, this solemnity on the opening day of each New Year asserts the role of each human person, and especially of each baptised Christian, in espousing, living and promoting the gospel of God’s kingdom and its value system in the affairs of the human family. Mary’s motherhood of our Lord and Saviour, of God made man in Jesus of Nazareth, anchors human involvement in the unfolding history of salvation. Like Mary, you and I, who have said yes and yes again to God at several points in our lives, are called and invited to the life of divine grace. That is, we are called to godly lifestyle that promotes godliness and goodness in all human relations, interactions and systems. This solemnity of Mary’s motherhood of Jesus, the Christ of God, highlights the role and responsibility of Christians for building peace and for the making and shaping of societal and state structures that promote and consolidate peace. Thus since 1967, beginning with Pope Paul VI, the Popes have issued a Message for New Year’s Day as World Peace Day. These Messages are annual expressions of the social implications of the Good News of the Gospel.
II Pope Francis’ First World Peace Day Message
Fraternity, the bond of fraternity between all human beings as human persons and as children of God, is the theme of Pope Francis World Peace Day Message for this year 2014. In line with his recent Apostolic Exhortation, Evangelii Gaudium, he begins his Message on a note of joy: he offers “everyone, individuals and peoples, my best wishes for a life filled with joy and hope”.
Pope Francis speaks in his opening remarks of things that we all experience and know well, for example:
• That irrepressible longing for fraternity which draws us to fellowship with others and enables us to see them not as enemies or rivals, but as brothers and sisters to be accepted and embraced
• The family as the wellspring of fraternity, and as such it is the foundation and the first pathway to peace, since by its vocation, it is meant to spread its love to the world around it
• Globalisation makes us neighbours, but it does not make us brothers
• The many situations of inequality, poverty and injustice, are signs not only of a profound lack of fraternity, but also of an absence of a culture of solidarity
• He concludes his opening observations with a remark that resonates with much contemporary questioning and debate and which deserves reflection and research by all interested in and engaged with public policy: “ It appears clear that contemporary ethical systems remain incapable of producing authentic bonds of fraternity, since a fraternity devoid of reference to a common Father as its ultimate foundation is unable to endure”
Sections two and three situate the human longing for fraternity in lived reality and in the challenging dynamic of our identity as baptised Christians. The story of Cain and Abel (section 2) “teaches that we have an inherent calling to fraternity, but also the tragic capacity to betray that calling”, as evidenced tragically by wars and injustices. In the person of Christ and through his Cross “we are reconciled with God and with one another as brothers and sisters” (no.3). Drawing on the Letter to the Ephesians (Eph 2.14-16) Pope Francis recalls that Jesus Christ “created in himself one people, one new man, one new humanity” (no. 3).
This fraternity in Christ, the life of grace, the power and dynamic of Christian faith, is the foundation and the pathway (no.5) to peace. It is a driver to fight poverty in its many forms in today’s world (no.5). This fraternity in Christian faith is a driver to lead to “timely rethinking of our models of economic development and to a change in lifestyle” (no. 6), recognised world-wide as necessary on the foot of “the financial and economic crises of the present time” (idem).
In similar vein the Message addresses the threatening and tragic realities of war (no.7), corruption and organised crime (no.8) and urges us all to acknowledge and respect the “grammar inscribed in nature” (no.9). Pope Francis invites us to reconsider how we are using the earth’s resources and how we exercise our responsibility to care for creation and the cosmos.
III Responding to this World Peace Day Message in our Diocese
Here in the diocese of Down and Connor we hear this Message through the burden of our history and the challenges of our history-laden present. Much has been done to consolidate justice and peace here in Northern Ireland since the Good Friday Agreement. And as the 2013 Haass negotiations have shown, much remains to be done.
On this World Day of Peace we owe it to ourselves as Christians and as fellow citizens to encourage our politicians to push forward and call all to reciprocal trust and respect, and not to be manipulated by negative forces of fear, tribal power-play or short-sighted protectionism of party political turf. Only by building and shaping trust will we create agreed space for all, a space that will emerge one day in this society. And why not in our time and by our common civic, Christian and political will?
We owe it to ourselves to consolidate peace with justice in our time. We owe it to our children so that we can build a society where they can grow and flourish as persons with opportunities to live with all peoples as appreciated and respected neighbours and with opportunities for literacy, numeracy, work and employment. On the basis of what has been achieved here in recent decades, we owe also it to humanity to show that strife, hatred and enmity can be overcome and definitively replaced by agreed ways of living together in respect, peace and reciprocal support.
Among the concluding remarks of this 2014 World Peace Day Message the following lines deserve consideration by all Christians in Northern Ireland:
The necessary realism proper to politics and economy cannot be reduced to mere technical know-how bereft of ideals and unconcerned with the transcendent dimension of man. When this openness to God is lacking, every human activity is impoverished and persons are reduced to objects that can be exploited. Only when politics and the economy are open to moving within the wide space ensured by the One who loves each man and each woman, will they achieve an ordering based on a genuine spirit of fraternal charity and become effective instruments of integral human development and peace. (no.10)
As Christians we all pray “Abba” Father (Gal 4. 6), as we are reminded by the second reading for today’s liturgy of the Word. We are guardians, bearers and heralds of the Good News of God’s plan of salvation, of the economy of salvation. This World Peace Day Message carries in its closing lines a call to all Christians and to all women and men of good will:
“This is the good news that demands from each one a step forward, a perennial exercise of empathy, of listening to the suffering and the hopes of others, even of those furthest away from me, and walking the demanding path of that love which knows how to give and spend itself freely for the good of all our brothers and sisters”. (no.10)
May we and all Christian citizens of Northern Ireland work at realising this perennial exercise of empathy throughout 2014.