Homily of Bishop Kevin Doran for the 50th World Day of Peace

01 Jan 2017

Fiftieth World Day of Peace, 1 January 1st 2017

The Gospel reading today tells us that Mary “treasured all these things and pondered them in her heart”. This morning, as we stand at the threshold of a new year, we are invited, like Mary, to ponder in a spirit of faith all that we have experienced in the past year – the blessings we have received; the awful violence which has gripped our world. We are invited to treasure in our hearts those family members, neighbours and friends, who began 2016 by our side, but who have died in the course of the year. 

From today on, 2016 is history and it seems like no time at all since it was just beginning. It will take me weeks to get used to writing 2017 on letters and cheques. Midnight on January 31st is just a moment in time, no different to any other; yet – in all sorts of ways – it marks a new beginning. The tradition of celebrating January 1st as the beginning of the civic New Year , goes back to pre-Christian times. For that reason, some people might be inclined to say that it has nothing to do with our reason for gathering here this morning. I think they are very much mistaken. 

One of the most powerful statements coming out of the Second Vatican Council was the idea that Christians must live as active participants in civil society, contributing whatever they can to the common good. For two thousand years, Christians have been doing just that, beginning in Jerusalem and Rome, and moving on eventually to Sligo and Roscommon, to Beijing, Boston and Berlin. Our faith in Jesus Christ, with its focus on justice and charity, forgiveness and service, is part of what we bring to the table. 

In the calendar of the Church, the first day of January has been associated from earliest Christian times with the motherhood of Mary. Along with the season of Advent and the celebration of Christmas, this Solemnity of Mary the Mother of God is all about new beginnings. Jesus is the “new beginning” and it is through Mary’s “yes” to God that he comes among us. 

Gathering together here at the end of one year and the beginning of another, to celebrate Mary’s Feast, we are invited not only to welcome that new beginning in our own lives, but also to renew our commitment to being agents of that new beginning in our society. I want to welcome in particular those who hold public office and those who are engaged professionally or as volunteers in public service. It may not always be possible or appropriate for you in your public role to profess your faith in words, but your attitudes and your actions, inspired by faith, will often speak louder than words.

As the choirs of angels remind us, Mary’s Son Jesus is the one who brings peace on Earth; he reconciles God and Humanity. It was the idea of Pope Paul VI that the first day of January should be designated as the World Day of Prayer for Peace. Both our first reading and our psalm today, coming from hundreds before the birth of Christ, express the hope that the Lord would reveal His face to us and give us peace. It was the deep yearning of generations of the Jewish people. As we look back over the past twelve months, it certainly seems that prayer for peace and action for peace, inspired by that prayer, is just as urgent now as it has been at any time in recent history. 

In his World Peace Day message, Pope Francis comments that we seem to be caught up today in a world war which is being “fought piecemeal”. Conflicts are actually taking place in many countries, but they are spilling over to touch the wider world. Millions of people face the reality of war on a daily basis, with all the human suffering that goes with it. For the rest of us, there is a feeling of helplessness and insecurity. We want to do something, but we don’t know what to do. International politics seems to have failed.

Pope Francis proposes “non-violence as a style of politics for peace”. You might ask, what can non-violence achieve? Pope Francis would counter that by pointing to people like St Teresa of Calcutta, Mahatma Gandhi and Pope John Paul II. He would ask: “What has violence achieved?” “Violence”, he says, “is not the cure for our broken world. Countering violence with violence leads at best to forced migrations and enormous suffering, 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”. 

If you have an interest in reading crime fiction or watching it on TV, one of the things that you might notice is that, when there is a murder, the detectives often asked themselves, who would be most likely to benefit from this? It is a good question and we might usefully ask ourselves the same question when it comes to war. “Who benefits from this?” – and the answer is easy enough to see. Some industries are built entirely on War and on the reconstruction that follows from war. Some politicians are far too closely linked with those industries. 

In the past, Ireland has played an important part in achieving and maintaining peace in the world. I think we can continue to do so in the future, but our government will only be proactive in the work of justice and peace in the wider world, if we – as citizens who believe in active non-violence – insist that it is kept on the political agenda here in Ireland. It is far too easy to just to leave it to Europe and to the United Nations.

As you might imagine, of course, Pope Francis does not limit the focus of his message to what is happening on the international stage. Non-violence as a strategy for peace begins in the hearts of men, women and children.

“If violence has its source in the human heart, then it is fundamental that nonviolence be practised before all else within families…. The family 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. From within families, the joy of love spills out into the world and radiates to the whole of society”.

One of the unique features of An Garda Siochana, the guardians of the peace, is that they are, in principle an unarmed force. This takes great courage in an increasingly violent society. Being unarmed does not mean that the Gardai never have to use force to defend people and their property. But being unarmed does seem to suggest that, as a matter of policy, Gardai will seek to respond to crime in a non-violent way. By doing this, they contribute to reducing the level of violence, rather than escalating it. 

Sport plays a very significant part in our society and for that reason men and women who are engaged in sport at the highest level have a huge influence on young people. The attitudes of mutual respect that sportspeople have for one another, even in the most physical and challenging of sports, even in the heat of the moment and even in the face of disappointment can be a very valuable witness to young people and can contribute to developing a culture of nonviolence in society.

There is one other thing which may be worth mentioning, on a day when the news bulletins are reporting a higher level of deaths on the roads in 2016 than in 2017. Aggressive driving, with the flashing of lights and the blowing of horns is a form of violence and, even if it is not the intended result, it does lead to people losing their lives. 

It leads to children growing up without their parents and to parents growing old without their children. These unnecessary deaths bring pain to many others too; the ambulance and fire crews, the Gardai and, indeed, the clergy who are called to the scenes of road accidents, as well as the doctors and nurses in our hospitals. There is great scope on Irish roads for a strategy of nonviolence.

In our first reading, we heard the words of a blessing from the Old Testament. The original scroll on which it is preserved in Jerusalem may in fact be the oldest surviving Writing in the Hebrew language. It refers to the Lord “making his face shine upon us”. It is a way of praying that he will continue to walk with us and not hide his face from us. It is my prayer for you this evening, as we begin this New Year together.

May the Lord bless you and keep you. 
May the Lord let his face shine on you and be gracious to you. 
May the Lord uncover his face to you and bring you peace.


Bishop Kevin Doran is Bishop of Elphin.