In a world torn by conflict, nonviolence is a Christian requirement, Pope says

Pope Francis greets pilgrims in St Peters Square during the Wednesday general audience on May 28 2014 Credit Daniel Ibez CNA 7 CNA 5 28 14 Pope Francis greets pilgrims in St. Peter's Square during the Wednesday General Audience May 28, 2014. | Daniel Ibáñez/CNA.

When it comes to the many conflicts splintering different parts of the world, Pope Francis said the Christian response must be one of nonviolence, which isn't passive, but active and has roots in a strong family life.

"To be true followers of Jesus today also includes embracing his teaching about nonviolence," the Pope said in his message for the 50th World Day of Peace, published Dec. 12.

Citing the havoc wrought by the wars and conflicts that marked the last century, Francis again pointed to the fact that today "we find ourselves engaged in a horrifying world war fought piecemeal."

Just this weekend around 70 people were killed in several terrorist attacks, including a blast outside a Coptic Orthodox cathedral in Cairo and two bombings near a soccer stadium in Istanbul.

While it's not easy to tell whether or not the world is presently more violent that in the past, what is obvious is that the "piecemeal violence" seen on various levels in the modern era leads to great suffering through war, terrorism, organized crime, human trafficking and environmental degradation.

Answering violence with violence leads "at best" to forced migration and the misuse of economic resources, and "at worst" to death, whether physical or spiritual, he said, stressing that "violence is not the cure for our broken world."

Jesus himself embraced a nonviolent response to the conflicts of his time, he said, pointing to his frequent insistence to love one's enemies and to turn the other cheek, as well as his actions in stopping the accusers of the woman caught in adultery from stoning her and in telling Peter to put away his sword the night before he died.

"The true battlefield, where violence and peace meet, is the human heart," he said, quoting the Gospel passage in Mark that reads: "it is from within, from the human heart, that evil intentions come."

However, Jesus' response is to walk the path of nonviolence up to the point of the cross, "whereby he became our peace and put an end to hostility."

Quoting his predecessor, retired pontiff Benedict XVI, Francis said the teaching of nonviolence is a realistic response to the world's conflicts "because it takes into account that in the world there is too much violence, too much injustice, and therefore that this situation cannot be overcome except by countering it with more love, with more goodness."

"For Christians, nonviolence is not merely tactical behavior but a person's way of being, the attitude of one who is so convinced of God's love and power that he or she is not afraid to tackle evil with the weapons of love and truth alone."

Jesus' command to love one's enemies "is rightly considered the magna carta of Christian nonviolence," he said, explaining that it doesn't mean succumbing to evil, but rather responding to evil with good.

Pope Francis' message for the 50th World Day of Peace was signed, as usual, Dec. 8, the feast of the Immaculate Conception, and published Dec. 12, it holds the theme "Nonviolence: a Style of Politics for Peace."

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.

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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."

He concluded by praying that in 2017, people would continue to build peace daily through "small gestures and acts."

"May we dedicate ourselves prayerfully and actively to banishing violence from our hearts, words and deeds, and to becoming nonviolent people and to build nonviolent communities that care for our common home," he said.

"Nothing is impossible if we turn to God in prayer. Everyone can be an artisan of peace."

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