Peacemaking is an integral part of Catholic Social Teaching, inviting people to be informed and act in conscience when demands are made of them that challenge the Gospel of peace.
This includes inter-personal relationships, relationships between communities and states – the active solidarity for the common good of the entire human family, that Pope John XXIII speaks of in Pacem in Terris – “Peace on Earth” paragraph 98. “So, we are called to identify the causes of violence, injustice and warfare and challenge the systems and structures that sustain and maintain them. From violence in the community to the deathly trade in arms and the continued production and threatened use of nuclear weapons, all are invited to build peace in a broken world.”
“Peace is not merely the absence of war. Nor can it be reduced solely to the maintenance of a balance of power between enemies. Nor is it brought about by dictatorship. Instead, it is rightly and appropriately called “an enterprise of justice” (Is. 32:7).
“Peace results from that harmony built into human society by its divine founder, and actualized by men as they thirst after ever greater justice”. Gaudium et Spes– “The Joys and Hopes” paragraph 78.
Pope Benedict XVI has continued to challenges Christians to be true peacemakers – bringing forgiveness and nonviolent solutions to situations of hurt and violence. Referring to the Gospels of the Beatitudes he said: “…this Gospel is rightly considered the “magna carta” of Christian nonviolence; it does not consist in surrendering to evil—as claims a false interpretation of ‘turn the other cheek’ but in responding to evil with good, and thus breaking the chain of injustice. It is thus understood that nonviolence, for Christians, is not mere tactical behavior but a person’s way of being, the attitude of one who is convinced of God’s love and power, who is not afraid to confront evil with the weapons of love and truth alone. Loving the enemy is the nucleus of the ‘Christian revolution,’ a revolution not based on strategies of economic, political or media power. The revolution of love, a love that does not base itself definitively in human resources, but in the gift of God, that is obtained only and unreservedly in his merciful goodness.” Pope Benedict XVI, Vatican City, 18 February 2007
The further explanation of peace can be broken down into three themes: Making peace in our broken world violence in the community, Conscientious Objectors to War and The Arms Trade and Nuclear War.
Theme 1 – Making peace in our broken world: violence in the community
Perhaps the best way to try to understand the challenge of this message ‘making peace in our broken world’ is to look a story of people in our own community today who are trying to face the violence that has been done to them and their families. Read about the Mizen Family here.
“It is a sign of hope that, despite many serious obstacles, initiatives for peace continue to spring up day by day, with the generous cooperation of many people. Peace is a building constantly under construction.”
Pope John Paul II, World Peace Day Message 2000
Theme 2 – Conscientious Objection to war
While many individual Christians and communities have refused to participate in war for reasons of conscience, it was only in 1965 that the Catholic Church spoke officially about conscientious objection and called for support for conscientious objectors.
The costs and consequences of conscientious objection are clearly presented in the life and witness of Franz Jägerstätter, an Austrian Catholic who refused to collaborate with national socialism from 1938 to the time of his death in 1943. His refusal to cooperate with Hitler’s war took him first to prison and finally to his death by execution in Berlin in 1943. Franz was supported by his wife ( he had four daughters) and family but received no support from the Church. Read more about him here.
During South African Apartheid, many young men, some Catholics refused to serve in the South African Defence Force. Pax Christi and CIIR (now Progressio) supported them. Some faced up to six years in prison, others fled the country. In 1985 the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of South Africa, sympathetic to the young men who were making such decisions of conscience, called for an end to conscription.
During the height of the disappearances and violation of rights in El Salvador in the 1980s Archbishop Oscar Romero made a plea to those serving this oppressive system saying; “I would like to appeal in a special way to the men of the army and in particular the troops of the National Guard, the police and the garrison. Brothers, you belong to your own people. You kill your own brother peasants, and in the face of an order to kill that is given by a man, the law of God should prevail that says do not kill! No soldier is obliged to obey an order counter to the law of God.
In 2008, Pax Christi supported US COs by taking part in a 10-hour vigil at the Canadian High Commission to protest at the plans of the Canadian Government’s to deport US soldiers who have fled the war in Iraq.
Since 2009 Pax Christi has encouraged support for young Israeli objectors. These teenagers, some of whom have been imprisoned for their refusal, say; we are Israeli teenagers who refuse to take part in an army that illegally and brutally occupies the Palestinian Territories and are willing to pay the price for our struggle against the occupation and in favour of peace. Emelia Marcovich a consciencious objector, refused to serve in the Israeli army – read more about her on the Israeli Social Activist Website The Shministim Letter.
The Church have also said representatives of the State have no power to bind men and women in conscience, unless their own authority is tied to God’s authority, and is a participation in it.
Since the right to command is required by the moral order and has its source in God, it follows that, if civil authority legislate for or allow anything that is contrary to the will of God, neither the law made or the authorisation granted can be binding on the conscience of the citizens since God has more right to be obeyed than men
Pacem in Terris – “Peace on Earth” 1964, paragraphs 49 & 51
…it seems right that laws make humane provision for the case of those who for reasons of conscience refuse to bear arms, provided however, that they agree to serve the human community in some other way. Gaudium et Spes paragraph 79.2
Theme 3: The arms trade and nuclear weapons
“Nothing is lost by peace; everything may be lost by war.”
Pope Pius XII and repeated by his predecessors, Pope John XXIII, Paul VI, John Paul II
Any act of war aimed indiscriminately at the destruction of entire cities of of extensive areas along with their population is a crime agains God and man himself” Gaudium et Spes – “The Joys and Hopes” paragraph 80
The futility of war as a means of solving problems is all too clear and has been clearly addressed by the social teaching of the church. Wars of the 20 and 21 century show us that it is civilians who are the most vulnerable to the technology and weapons of war. From the first use of nuclear weapons in 1945 to the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, military technology becomes ever more deadly.
- In 2007, 26 million people were forced to leave home as a result of conflict.
- The global military expenditure in 2009 is estimated to have been $1531 billion, an increase of 6 per cent in real terms compared to 2008 and at a time of global recession
- The 2010 UK Defence Budget is £40 billion while the Overseas Aid budget stands at £6 billion.
- 80% of arms exports come from the USA, UK, Russia, France and Germany.
- The UK continues to approve export licences to countries involved in major armed conflicts.
- At the time of writing the UK government is planning to go ahead with the replacement of Trident, our ‘independent’ nuclear weapons programme at an estimated lifetime cost of £97 billion
But, the security of one person or nation cannot be safeguarded while ignoring or threatening the well-being of others in the global community. Weapons and armies can do little to address injustice and poverty – rather they cause greater polarity within and between countries. The Gospel and the social tradition and teaching of our Church show us that the way forward is through global solidarity and investment in projects that transform situations of injustice.
A challenge to the global arms trade; If arms production is a serious disorder in the present world with regard to true human needs and the employment of the means capable of satisfying those needs, the arms trade is equally to blame…and the moral judgement is even more severe…This is a trade without frontiers, capable of crossing even the barriers of the blocs. It knows how to overcome the division between East and West and above all the one between North and South.
Solicitudo Rei Sociialis, paragraph 24,1987
A challenge to nuclear states; What can be said, too, about those governments which count on nuclear arms as a means of ensuring the security of their countries? Along with countless persons of good will, one can state that this point of view is not only baneful but also completely fallacious. In a nuclear war there would be no victors, only victims….The resources which would be saved could then be employed in projects of development capable of benefiting all their people, especially the poor.”
Pope Benedict XVI World Peace Day 2006
There are many creative ways in which the arms trade and nuclear weapons policies are challenged. For some it may be engagement in letter-writing on government policies, for others it may be the issue of financial investments and support for the arms trade which are challenged. There are also those who take the act of ‘disarmament’ at face value, making it real and practical – those who directly and nonviolently challenge government and the arms industry to literally ‘ turn swords into ploughshares’.