13 September 2011 09:00 | Residenz, Allerheiligen-Hofkirche
Widespread Violence: the New Frontier of Peace by Telesphore Placidus Toppo
Jesus Christ came to the world as the Prince of Peace, the very embodiment of heavenly peace. The song of the angels sung at his birth, “Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace, goodwill toward men!" proclaims this eternal truth. We believe in the Prince of Peace and in Him we have life in its fullness. The world lives and moves forward in this hope, the lighthouse standing erect at the shore of life. On the other hand, we cannot just be blind to the widespread violence and turn a deaf ear to the cries of the innocents. The violence of the modern day is shocking and terrifying. Agonised by this gory reality, Mr. Nelson Mandela wrote, “the twentieth century will be remembered as a century marked by violence. It burdens us with its legacy of mass destruction, of violence inflicted on a scale never seen and never possible before in human history.” Every sensible person in the world is genuinely concerned about the bloodshed, murder, bomb blast, mob-violence, arson and terrorism. Dr. Gro Harlem Brundtland, the then Director General of WHO wrote, “Violence is a complex problem related to patterns of thought and behaviour that are shaped by a multitude of forces within our families and communities, forces that can also transcend national borders”. However, as people of hope, we cannot just sit and cry by the rivers of Babylon. We need to get engaged proactively in the new frontier of peace to address violence, to heal the wounds and bring about reconciliation. We are the children of resurrection and of the eternal light.
Creation of peace and harmony
God created the world out of chaos and found it “very good”. He created man and woman in his own divine image and likeness and held them as the crown of creation. He endowed them with the authority to reign over creation and fuse it with love, thus enjoying harmony and peace. God placed absolute trust on human beings. Trust is a bridge that connects hearts. The heart of God and the heart of the first man and woman were tuned into a melodious bond by trust born out of pure love. The same trust connected the first man and woman as portrayed in the first two chapters of Genesis. Man and woman, being created in the image of God, being given the same divine blessings and being entrusted with common tasks, were harmonious partners with equality and mutuality. Yes, God created the human race to live in peace and harmony with themselves and with the creation in its totality. Thus it won’t be an exaggeration to say that He created peace and harmony. This is the order of creation and therefore the order of life.
The breach of the covenant
The covenantal love man and woman enjoyed with God, their creator, was broken because of the ill desire in the human “to be like God”. Disobedience and overbearing pride, shattered the trust and thereby the peace and harmony. The fall in grace led to estrangement and alienation of humankind affecting all spheres of life. Peace and harmony which existed between man and woman was replaced by the relation of domination and subordination. The relation of trust among human beings turned into one of hatred and violence, as shown in the fratricidal story of Cain and Abel. The breach of the covenant distanced the human beings from their creator and from their fellow creatures ultimately led to the destruction of harmony between humankind and nature. The ground began to bring forth "thorns and thistles" , and human beings, in turn, became wanton exploiters and ruthless plunderers. In short, the defiance and hubris of human beings alienated them from God, which consequently resulted in the unbalancing of the harmony in the order of creation. Humankind became separated from the creator, from each other, and from the natural world. The wholeness of God's creation was broken into chaotic fragmentation; into human made divisions.
“Culture of Violence”
The history of human existence, down the centuries, has witnessed violence of every kind and most of them springing from ego and selfishness. According to WHO, each year more than 1.6 million people worldwide lose their lives in violence. This does not include the other results of violence that refers to the millions of people left with all kinds of deformities ranging from physical, mental, psychological, sexual, reproductive and mental health problems. Violence also affects the economy of the nations, the fabric of the society, the ecological balance and the goodwill enjoyed in communities. All at once, the neighbour becomes the “other”, and suspicion and hatred continues to play havoc. Violence causes massive expenses on health care, law enforcement and rebuilding.
Violence appears to be woven into the fabric of most societies and it exists in many forms and at multiple levels. Be it physical, verbal, sexual, psychological, domestic or emotional and be it inflicted by individuals, groups, institutions, or nations, violence threatens the human race in numerous and complex ways. The modern world is facing a multi-dimensional crisis; a crisis that poses challenge to each and every aspect of our life. Some of the major aspects of this crisis are: over-militarization, proliferation and global reach of arms, terrorism, hostility, overdevelopment and underdevelopment resulting in mal development, a vast number of people suffering from poverty, hunger, marginalization and exploitation. Holy Father John Paul II of great memories tells, “Our world also shows increasing evidence of another grave threat to peace: many individuals and indeed whole peoples are living today in conditions of extreme poverty. The gap between rich and poor has become more marked, even in the most economically developed nations. This is a problem which the conscience of humanity cannot ignore, since the conditions in which a great number of people are living are an insult to their innate dignity and as a result are a threat to the authentic and harmonious progress of the world community”.
Added to these are environmental degradation in the form of pollution and growing paucity of resources, denial of human rights, corruption, criminalization, communalism and consumerism, gender bias and injustice, crisis in the field of energy, mounting insecurity, terrorism, drug trafficking, AIDS. All these together have created a culture of violence and posed a grave challenge to the world and to world peace.
God who created everything willed for a harmonious world where “the wolf will dwell with the lamb, and the leopard will lie down with the kid, and the calf and the young lion and the fatling together; and a little boy will lead them”. Has God lost the battle? Is everything going against the will of God? For a moment everything looks bleak and blurred.
Jesus, the Prince of Peace
"When the fullness of time was come", God sent his only Son, Jesus. He came to liberate, to heal and to restore peace. St Paul proclaims, "We have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ.” Jesus before his crucifixion gifts peace to his disciples. He says, “Peace I leave with you. My peace I give to you; not as the world gives do I give to you. Let not your heart be troubled, neither let it be afraid". The Risen Jesus endorses the gift by his repeated greeting, “Peace be with you”. He reconciles everything by the blood of his cross. He is indeed our “peace”. "For he is the peace between us, and has made the two into one entity and broken down the barrier which used to keep them apart […]” Jesus Christ is our reconciliation and peace and this is why the Christian Church throughout her history has proclaimed him as the "the Prince of Peace”. Yes, in and through Him God has won the battle. He is the Way, the Truth and the Life.
Called to be the Peacemakers
We proclaim Jesus as the answer to all the questions of life, however complicated and intrigue they are. We acknowledge and announce the good news that we are reconciled to God through Jesus, the crucified and in Him we have become the sons and daughters of God. He bridges the valleys and fills the widening gaps. Jesus is the peacemaker par excellence. This affirmation of our faith in Jesus as the Prince of Peace not only bestows upon us the grace of peace but calls us to be peacemakers like unto Him. Thus peace is a gift as well as a task and responsibility. Peace is not a tranquilizer but the greatest energiser to be always alive, vibrant and passionate to the cause of peace. In the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus says, "Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called sons of God". We are the sons and daughters of God and therefore we are implicitly the peacemakers.
(a) Respect the Other
Every human person born on this earth is created in the image of God and therefore is sanctified and dignified. Each person deserves the respect of the other irrespective of any difference, be it ethnicity, language, region, status, colour or creed. Blessed Mother Theresa, the Nobel Laureate for Peace manifested this basic truth in her daily life by restoring dignity to the destitute. Indeed, peace has its source in the heart of each person. Holy Father Benedict XVI says, “I am convinced that respect for the person promotes peace and that, in building peace, the foundations are laid for an authentic integral humanism. In this way a serene future is prepared for coming generations”. This is fundamental to the ministry of peacemaking and reconciliation. The new frontier of peace begins with the implicit respect for the other, the dignified creation of God. Gaudium et Spes proclaims, “This peace on earth cannot be obtained unless personal well-being is safeguarded and men freely and trustingly share with one another the riches of their inner spirits and their talents. A firm determination to respect other men and women and their dignity, as well as the studied practice of brotherhood are absolutely necessary for the establishment of peace. Hence peace is likewise the fruit of love, which goes beyond what justice can provide.”
(b) Reaching out to the poor
A question here arises then; can my brother or sister go to bed hungry while I enjoy the plenty? Can my conscience allow such misery to take place in my own neighbourhood or around me? Didn’t God create each person to enjoy and cherish the riches of creation equally? Why then this difference? Poverty and destitution are great social evils. Holy Father Blessed John Paul II wrote, “There are millions of men, women and children suffering every day from hunger, insecurity and marginalization. These situations constitute a grave affront to human dignity and contribute to social instability.” Such situations of poverty, hunger and misery dwarf human life and these are clear threats to peace. The new Frontier of peace has to address this burning issue. The structural injustices, conflicts, violence, inhuman behaviour leave many in the streets. We need to work together and in solidarity fight poverty. Holy Father Blessed John Paul II said, “Christ's example, no less than his words, is normative for Christians. We know that, at the Last Judgment, we shall be judged, without distinction, on our practical love of our brothers and sisters. Indeed, it will be in the practical love they have shown that, on that day, many will discover that they have in fact met Christ, although without having known him before in an explicit way (cf. M 25:35-37). If you want peace reach out to the poor.”
(c) Nurture the families
Family is the nurturing cradle of love, dignity, acceptance and growth. It is the natural habitat of life being cared, moulded and supported. Vatican II calls the family, “the primary living cell of the society”. Holy Father Benedict XVI very beautifully describes this truth. He says, “the family is the foundation of society for this reason too: because it enables its members in decisive ways to experience peace. It follows that the human community cannot do without the service provided by the family. Where can young people gradually learn to savour the genuine ‘taste’ of peace better than in the original ‘nest’ which nature prepares for them? The language of the family is a language of peace; we must always draw from it, lest we lose the ‘vocabulary’ of peace. In the inflation of its speech, society cannot cease to refer to that ‘grammar’ which all children learn from the looks and the actions of their mothers and fathers, even before they learn from their words”. The task in front of the new Frontiers of peace then is working relentlessly to build the human families into communities of peace from where our journey to build the global family of solidarity and cooperation begins. Holy Father says again, “The social community, if it is to live in peace, is also called to draw inspiration from the values on which the family community is based. This is as true for local communities as it is for national communities; it is also true for the international community itself, for the human family which dwells in that common house which is the earth.” The brokenness experienced in families all over is sickening. The global family too is getting fragmented by ethnic violence, racial wars, conflicts on ideologies, differences in religious views and much more. We cannot wait and watch. The time is passing and we have to rise up to the occasion if we are to be called the peacemakers. We belong to the one body of Christ and therefore if one part is hurt all the parts share its pain. The new Frontiers of Peace have to march forward to build the Body of Christ. Guadium et Spes says, “Therefore, if we have been summoned to the same destiny, human and divine, we can and we should work together without violence and deceit in order to build up the world in genuine peace”.
(d) Preserve nature
Nature too is God’s creation and though men and women are given the privilege to have dominion over nature, in no way it implies, the exploitation of nature. The resources of nature is at the disposal of all men and women and do not belong to the privileged few. The rich deposits of natural wealth belong to all generations. Every person has equal right over the gifts of nature. While enjoying the riches of nature we are also duty bound to care for nature and the environment. Holy Father Benedict XVI says, “We need to care for the environment: it has been entrusted to men and women to be protected and cultivated with responsible freedom, with the good of all as a constant guiding criterion”. The exploitation and misuse of nature, deforestation, pollution, desertification and such are causing climate change and ecological imbalance resulting in great disasters. Can the new Frontiers of peace protect the creation of God? How do we preserve the beauty of nature reflecting the grandeur of God? We have a great mission in this sphere too.
The path of dialogue, truth and non-violence
The task in front of the peacemakers or the new Frontiers of peace is very challenging and mind-blowing. The right strategies have to be worked out to carry forward the mission of building peace, bridging hearts, bringing cultures, religions, nations close to each other into one great global family. We need to gather the best practices globally and apply them locally to produce much fruit.
History has shown that it is not violence, war, destruction, or punishment that promotes reconciliation, peace, or harmony. Dialogue is a humane approach to build relationships. In dialogue, the other is respected, views are appreciated, ideologies are shared and together in reflection and discernment the one path to walk forward is identified. The go may be tough but it opens avenues and widens horizons. Unilateral decisions mostly divide and narrow the path of understanding. Holy Father Benedict XVI says, “In this regard, it is essential to ‘sense’ that the earth is ‘our common home’ and, in our stewardship and service to all, to choose the path of dialogue rather than the path of unilateral decisions”. Dialogue has to embrace all dimensions of human life, namely, “economic, socio-political, cultural and religious”. The work has to begin with me and with us. We cannot wait until the whole world moves. The Church has always spoken in favour of dialogue and She is indeed in dialogue with herself and with others to find ways and paths to live in harmony with one another while enjoying personal and religious freedom.
Knowing the truth and living the truth is a very important strategy to accomplish peace. Falsehood maligns relationships; breaks bonds and builds castles in the air. In the words of the Holy Father Benedict XVI, “wherever and whenever men and women are enlightened by the splendour of truth, they naturally set out on the path of peace”. Truth is founded in the divine order. Every created person belongs to the one large human family with the inherited socio, cultural, linguistic differences. The inherent divine dignity binds all together. Therefore extreme exaltation of any difference on one over the other goes against this fundamental truth and thus affects peace. The difference is appreciated in order to learn to respect every difference in favour of the truth of belonging to the one human family. The awareness of our transcendent destiny too can give us the focus and minimize the difference in favour of co-existence, collaboration, cooperation, participation and peace. “[…] if peace is to be authentic and lasting, it must be built on the bedrock of the truth about God and the truth about man. This truth alone can create a sensitivity to justice and openness to love and solidarity, while encouraging everyone to work for a truly free and harmonious human family. The foundations of authentic peace rest on the truth about God and man”. Truth sets us free to be in peace with one another. We need to allow truth to enlighten us and thus make us peacemakers.
Mahatma Gandhi taught the world the concept of non-violence, a technique for non-violent resolution of conflict. He realized from experience that violence is not a solution to any problem facing humanity. It only accelerates tension, ill-feelings and hatred. He believed in the elimination of ill-feelings entertained by both the parties in loggerheads with each other. He proved to the world that even substantial issues of conflict could be resolved peacefully through negotiation, conciliation and compromise. Certainly, it is not an easy path. It demands moral discipline but bears much fruit and brings about amicable settlement. The peacemakers, the new Frontiers of peace have to imbibe the spirit of non-violence to achieve the desired goal of peace and harmony.
Today’s world is cropping with innumerable issues posing grave danger to humanity. An analysis of the issues would reveal that they are global in their dimension and nature. It is beyond the scope of any one nation or institution, however powerful it is, to find a long term solution to these issues. International cooperation, inter-dependent approach, constant dialogue and fellow feeling are needed to tackle them and establish the divine order of peace. The new frontiers of peace will have to strategically work to create avenues and opportunities for such dialogues trusting in the Prince of Peace, "For to us a child is born; to us a son is given... and his name will be called, 'Wonderful Counsellor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace". The Gospel according St. Mathew sees the fulfilment of the prophecy in the coming of Jesus (Mt. 4:15-16). With faith in him we pray “Thy Kingdom come!”