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Peace Among Nations: Pope Francis’ Invocation of Peace at the Vatican

Peres_Abbas_Francis“Peacemaking calls for courage, much more so than warfare. It calls for the courage to say yes to encounter and no to conflict: yes to dialogue and no to violence; yes to negotiations and no to hostilities; yes to respect for agreements and no to acts of provocation; yes to sincerity and no to duplicity. All of this takes courage, it takes strength and tenacity.” These were the words of Pope Francis as he gave his address for the Invocation of Peace on Sunday. The gathering was held in the Vatican Gardens and involved Israeli President Shimon Peres and Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, whom Pope Francis had invited during his trip to the Middle East last month. The Orthodox Christian leader Patriarch Bartholomew I, was also in attendance.
Reflecting on these words, I think of a friend who personifies them. My friend was a Muslim student at a Catholic College, so saying that she was a minority was an understatement. At one point, she told me, she accounted for twenty percent of the college’s Muslim students; additionally, out of this population she was one of the few practicing Muslims. Despite all of this, she chose to deeply immerse herself in unfamiliar territory by taking time to attend the Mass on campus, making friends with the priests, and taking Catholic theology courses. Her actions have caused me to reflect on my own ability to face what I perceive as unknown or intimidating – a stranger, a new environment, or a non-Catholic place of worship – with courage and a resolve to risk my own sense of comfort in order to perhaps bring about new connections.
When I think of this kind of courage I also think of the late Bishop Joseph McFadden of the Diocese of Harrisburg — my hometown diocese — who chose to attend and speak alone at a PA Nonbelievers meeting he had been invited to. His courage was to talk of our faith and yet also to listen, even if that meant going into an uncomfortable situation.
It has often been said that religious differences are the causes of many wars. Yet we know that typically the violence between different religious or cultural groups is a complex situation that is the result of multiple sociological, economic, or political factors. When religion is brought into the mix, it is often used as an ultimate stamp of justification for one party’s violent actions against another. The danger is not necessarily in the religion itself but in people in power who manipulate religion into a device for destructive purposes. This creates a situation in which the enemy is dehumanized due to its dissociation with the “right” religion.
Jesus’ action in reaching out to gentiles, on the other hand, is something we can imitate just as Pope Francis has done: by reaching out to those of different faiths and those of no faith, whether in dialogue or in prayer. In this way, we can give life to the principle that the religious “other” is really not a stranger but a fellow human being — perhaps even a future friend! In this way, lines drawn according to religious difference will fail before they can ever become established, and our fellow humans will not become “them” or “they” but “we” and “us.” Granted, we should also recognize, given the situation, that peace will not necessarily occur simply or without sacrifice, but that small steps performed today are the ones that increasingly ensure violence never escalates.
As Pope Francis has also just demonstrated, even if all these steps fail there is still prayer. Besides praying for peaceful results to conflict we also in this way ensure that our peacemaking starts with our Holy Father. So let us pray in the words of St. Francis:

Lord, make me an instrument of Your peace.
Where there is hatred, let me sow love,
where there is injury, pardon,
where there is discord, harmony,
where there is error, truth,
where there is doubt, faith,
where there is despair, hope,
where there is darkness, light,
and where there is sadness, joy.
O Divine Master, Grant that I may not so much seek
to be consoled as to console,
to be understood as to understand,
to be loved as to love.
For it is in giving that we receive,
it is in pardoning that we are pardoned,
and it is in dying that we are born to eternal life.

A question to consider: How can I be a peacemaker in my office, neighborhood, or religious community?

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