Jan. 1, 2017, marked the 50th World Day of Peace, which is an observance that was initiated by Pope Paul VI. In his message for this 50th World Day of Peace, Pope Francis invites us to reflect on "nonviolence as a style of politics for peace." The Holy Father recalls Blessed Paul VI's message for the first World Day of Peace in which he declared that "peace is the only true direction of human progress - and not the tensions caused by ambitious nationalisms, nor conquests by violence, nor repressions which serve as mainstay for a false civil order." Pope Paul cited St. John XXIII's encyclical Pacem in Terris to extol "the sense and love of peace founded upon truth, justice, freedom and love."
Fifty years later, our world still needs to hear and heed these papal appeals to peace. Violence leaves its ugly scars on so many nations and destroys so many people's lives. Pope Francis describes our current global situation as a "horrifying world war fought piecemeal." The suffering this conflict causes is seen in terrorism, organized crime and so-called "random" acts of violence. Consider the abuses endured by migrants and human trafficking victims, as well as the devastation of the natural environment. We must never forget the ongoing slaughter of preborn human beings through legalized abortion. Vulnerable children and adults face abuse and violence on a daily basis. Even a fleeting glance at the news indicates how violence-ridden our world has become.
Although it can be daunting to consider the many forms of violence that exist in the world today, we must not lose our hope. Pope Francis encourages us that we can and must act as peacemakers in this broken world of ours. While we want to look to governments, diplomacy and organizations like the United Nations for the solutions to the conflicts that lead to violence, Pope Francis calls us to look into our own hearts. He prays that the "image and likeness of God in each person will enable us to acknowledge one another as sacred gifts endowed with immense dignity." This is the way to make active nonviolence our way of life. Nonviolence begins with our own thoughts, attitudes and values. It manifests itself in how we treat one another in personal relationships, within our communities, in society, as well as among nations.
Pope Francis' namesake, St. Francis of Assisi, is perhaps best known for his peaceful nature, which was so in harmony with God's creation. Listen to these words, which he addressed to his followers: "As you announce peace with your mouth, make sure that you have greater peace in your hearts." Centuries later, the world needs this reminder more than ever. We cannot attain peace in the world if we do not possess peace in our own hearts. The theme of St. John Paul II's 1984 World Day of Peace message was "from a new heart, peace is born." This process of forming a "new heart" is best described as a personal conversion of heart. It is through this personal conversion of heart that we can best contribute to the "peace on earth" that we all long for. St. John Paul II lived through several infamous forms of violence, including Nazism and communism. He offers us the following reflection on achieving a personal conversion of heart:
As it is necessary to acquire a new heart, to promote a new mentality of peace, all men and women, whatever their place in society, truly can and must assume their share of responsibility in the construction of a true peace, in the circle where they live, in the family, at school, in business, in the city. In their cares, conversations and actions, they must feel concerned for all their brothers and sisters who are part of the same human family, even if they live at the other end of the world.
May these words of wisdom from several popes and the great St. Francis of Assisi strengthen us as we strive to become people of peace. As we begin this New Year, we pray that 2017 will be a year marked by greater peace rather than greater violence. Let us resolve to be the peacemakers our world so desperately needs! May we each experience the enduring conversion of heart that makes such a resolution achievable. We join with Pope Francis in calling on Our Lady, Queen of Peace, for her guidance on the pathway to peace. In the words of St. Paul, may God's own peace, which surpasses all understanding, stand guard over our hearts and minds!