Over the last week, like many Americans, I have watched the news videos of violence around the world. I have been shocked and angered by the attacks on American embassies and Western businesses, and the murder of innocent persons. I have also listened and read the responses of our political leaders and pundits — all of whom, it seems, are advocating for retaliation, the use of force, and more violence.
But there is another way here. We do not always have to resort to more violence, more killing. Legitimate self-defense is necessary, but we have to question and challenge every use of force. Violence is not the only way to deal with problems. There is also the way of peace.
Pope Benedict is in Lebanon right now, giving a courageous personal witness to that way. And he is using his position as Vicar of Christ to tell us that we need to seek peace and justice, and not to perpetuate the violence. His address to the public officials who greeted him in Lebanon is a profound and eloquent call to the way of peace, and should be read, studied, and taken to heart by all our political leaders.
A few highlights are worth sharing here. On the dignity of the human person as the foundation of a peaceful society:
The energy needed to build and consolidate peace also demands that we constantly return to the wellsprings of our humanity. Our human dignity is inseparable from the sacredness of life as the gift of the Creator. In God’s plan, each person is unique and irreplaceable. A person comes into this world in a family, which is the first locus of humanization, and above all the first school of peace. To build peace, we need to look to the family, supporting it and facilitating its task, and in this way promoting an overall culture of life. The effectiveness of our commitment to peace depends on our understanding of human life. If we want peace, let us defend life! This approach leads us to reject not only war and terrorism, but every assault on innocent human life, on men and women as creatures willed by God… We must combine our efforts, then, to develop a sound vision of man, respectful of the unity and integrity of the human person. Without this, it is impossible to build true peace.
On the need for solidarity among people as the path to peace:
Mankind is one great family for which all of us are responsible. By questioning, directly or indirectly, or even before the law, the inalienable value of each person and the natural foundation of the family, some ideologies undermine the foundations of society. We need to be conscious of these attacks on our efforts to build harmonious coexistence. Only effective solidarity can act as an antidote, solidarity that rejects whatever obstructs respect for each human being, solidarity that supports policies and initiatives aimed at bringing peoples together in an honest and just manner… Nowadays, our cultural, social and religious differences should lead us to a new kind of fraternity wherein what rightly unites us is a shared sense of the greatness of each person and the gift which others are to themselves, to those around them and to all humanity. This is the path to peace! This is the commitment demanded of us! This is the approach which ought to guide political and economic decisions at every level and on a global scale!
And on conversion of heart that all are called to:
A new and freer way of looking at these realities will enable us to evaluate and challenge those human systems which lead to impasses, and to move forward with due care not to repeat past mistakes with their devastating consequences. The conversion demanded of us can also be exhilarating, since it creates possibilities by appealing to the countless resources present in the hearts of all those men and women who desire to live in peace and are prepared to work for peace. True, it is quite demanding: it involves rejecting revenge, acknowledging one’s faults, accepting apologies without demanding them, and, not least, forgiveness. Only forgiveness, given and received, can lay lasting foundations for reconciliation and universal peace.
The Holy Father is calling upon all of us to look at the deplorable situation in our world in a new light — the light of the Gospel, which is the light of love. We must demand that our political leaders break free of the false consciousness that impels them to advocate for violence in response to violence, to force in opposition to force, and to power against power.
God demands that we live in peace with our brethren around the world, regardless of our differences. Our Holy Father is showing us the way. Let us pray that our political leaders will see that, and choose the way of peace.