POPE FRANCIS is calling for a new style of politics that is capable of building peace through “creative non-violence”.
The Pope’s annual letter to heads of state to mark World Peace Day, on 1 January, is the first to be dedicated explicitly to the theme of non-violence. He urges world leaders to be brave enough to turn away from war. He warns that continued escalating conflicts could lead to the physical and spiritual death of many people — “if not of all”.
He writes: “I ask God to help all of us to cultivate non-violence in our most personal thoughts and values. May charity and non-violence govern how we treat each other as individuals, within society and in international life. When victims of violence are able to resist the temptation to retaliate, they become the most credible promoters of non-violent peace-making.
“In the most local and ordinary situations and in the international order, may non-violence become the hallmark of our decisions, our relationships, and our actions, and indeed of political life in all its forms.”
The letter was signed on 8 December, days before Pope Francis issued a direct appeal to President Bashar al-Assad of Syria to end the civil war in his country, in which more than a quarter of a million people have died.
In his letter for World Peace Day, the Pope says that “violence is not the cure for our broken world”, and that true followers of Christ must heed the Lord’s teachings on non-violence in the Sermon on the Mount, and especially the Beatitudes.
Such teachings, he says, have been echoed by St Teresa of Calcutta, and also by Pope St John Paul II, who encouraged Christians behind the Iron Curtain to struggle against Communism through non-violent means.
“The decisive and consistent practice of nonviolence has produced impressive results,” the Pope writes. “The achievements of Mahatma Gandhi and Khan Abdul Ghaffar Khan in the liberation of India, and of Dr Martin Luther King Jr in combating racial discrimination will never be forgotten.
“Women in particular are often leaders of non-violence, as, for example, was Leymah Gbowee and the thousands of Liberian women who organised pray-ins and nonviolent protest that resulted in high-level peace talks to end the second civil war in Liberia.”
In his letter, the Pope, who will turn 80 tomorrow, appeals “for
disarmament and for the prohibition and abolition of nuclear weapons. . . I plead with equal urgency for an end to domestic violence and to the abuse of women and children . . .
“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. At worst, it can lead to the death, physical and spiritual, of many people, if not of all.”
Pope John XXIII made the first papal intervention for peace when he issued the encyclical Pacem in Terris (”Peace on Earth”) at the height of the Cold War in 1963. Subsequent popes have since consistently preached non-violence, although none has dedicated a document explicitly to the subject.