Instituted by Bl. Pope Paul VI in 1968, the World Day of Peace is celebrated each year on the first day of January. The Pope gives a special message for the occasion, which is sent to all foreign ministers around the world, and which also indicates the Holy See's diplomatic tone during the coming year.
So far Pope Francis' messages have focused on themes close to his heart, such as fraternity, an end to slavery, including forced labor and human trafficking, as well as overcoming indifference on both an individual and a political level.
His messages for the event have consistently included bold pastoral and political advice for both ecclesial and international leaders, including his push for the abolition of the death penalty and amnesty for prisoners convicted of political offenses.
This year his message includes a plug for the disarmament, prohibition and abolition of nuclear weapons, since "nuclear deterrence and the threat of mutual assured destruction are incapable" of adopting a true ethics of nonviolence.
Francis also issued an appeal for an end to domestic violence and the abuse of women and children.
He mentioned several figures who for him are prime examples of nonviolence, including the recently canonized St. Teresa of Calcutta, Mahatma Ghandi, Pashtun independence activist Khan Abdul Ghaffar Khan and Martin Luther King Jr.
Women are often leaders of nonviolence, he said, pointing to Liberian activist Leymah Gbowee and the thousands of women in the country who through organized prayer events and nonviolent protests succeeded in prompting high-level peace talks to end the second civil war in Liberia.
Nonviolence is at times mistakenly understood to be synonymous with surrender, a lack of involvement or with passivity, however, he stressed that "this is not the case."
St. Teresa of Calcutta, when receiving the Nobel Peace Prize in 1979, affirmed this when she said that we don't need "bombs and guns" to bring peace, but rather to "get together (and) love one another."
Francis praised St. Teresa's ready availability toward everyone "through her welcome and defense of human life, those unborn and those abandoned and discarded."
"She bowed down before those who were spent, left to die on the side of the road, seeing in them their God-given dignity; she made her voice heard before the powers of this world, so that they might recognize their guilt for the crimes – the crimes! – of poverty they created," he said, noting that her mission was to reach out to the suffering and "bind up every wounded body, healing every broken life."
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If the strategy of nonviolence is to grow, it must begin in the family, the Pope said, explaining that the family "is the indispensable crucible" in which all members of the family "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."
The love lived within the family radiates to the whole of society, he said, adding that "an ethics of fraternity and peaceful coexistence between individuals and among peoples cannot be based on the logic of fear, violence and closed-mindedness, but on responsibility, respect and sincere dialogue."
Pope Francis closed his message by pointing to the Beatitudes as a "portrait" and program for both political and religious leaders and heads of international institutions, businesses and media execs to follow in exercising their responsibility.
To act as a peacemaker in society and business is often a challenge, he said, because it involves showing mercy and refusing to discard people, to harm the environment or to win "at any cost."
"Active nonviolence is a way of showing that unity is truly more powerful and more fruitful than conflict," he said, noting that while differences will inevitably cause frictions, we can face them "constructively and non-violently, so that tensions and oppositions can achieve a diversified and life-giving unity, preserving what is valid and useful on both sides."