Bishop of Down & Connor Noel Treanor’s homily and World Day of Peace message for New Year’s Day

All Saints’ Church, Ballymena, Co Antrim

  • “Peace cannot and should not be taken for granted. It is a ‘precious value’ that requires cultivation and tending in every generation.”
  • “Our citizenry have made it clear long since that the hard-won peace [in Northern Ireland] is their abiding wish. Indeed we await and expect in the coming days what the Pope Francis’ Message describes as a renewal of political will so that new ways can be found to reconcile and unite individuals and communities.”
  • “As citizens, and especially as Christians who hear of the Word of God addressed to us from the Holy Scriptures, we are called to listen to one another, and especially to victims of conflict in such a way that we achieve mutual understanding and esteem, and even to seeing in an enemy the face of a brother or sister. This is an ambitious, almost impossible objective, one might opine. Yet the poignant examples of many of our fellow citizens who suffered indescribably during The Troubles have shown us the way. We stand in debt to the power and Christian example of their historic and eternal witness.”
  • “As we enter a New Year, let us keep in our hearts and minds the words of Pope Francis: the culture of fraternal encounter shatters the culture of conflict.”

Peace: an urgent aspiration, a constant journey, a gift of God

This, the fifty-third World Peace Day Message, which describes peace as a journey of hope to be undertaken in a spirit of dialogue, reconciliation and ecological conversion, is best appreciated against the backdrop of Pope Francis’ numerous efforts to promote peace and the work of peace with world leaders and among peoples.

In recent years he has often remarked that humanity is witnessing in piecemeal fashion a Third World War.  The horrors of the numerous local wars in so many countries and international terrorism are the grounds for his perceptive remark.

In the course of the past year alone we can recall his February visit to Abu Dhabi and the co-signing by Pope Francis and the Grand Imam, Ahmed el-Tayeb, of the “Document on Human Fraternity for World Peace and Living Together”.  This marked a significant step in advancing relations with the Muslim world, an important step in advancing the grounds for inter-cultural and inter-religious respect.

Likewise one remembers those iconic images in the month of April of Pope Francis, in the presence of Archbishop Justin Welby, the Archbishop of Canterbury and other Christian leaders, kneeling down to kiss the feet of the President and Vice-President of South Sudan as he beseeched them, rivals in the civil war in their country, after their two days of spiritual retreat in the Vatican, to work for peace for their country and its peoples.

His powerful speech at Nagasaki, during his visit to Japan, included seminal and prophetic comments of the myopia of nuclear deterrence and the need for a global ethic of solidarity and cooperation, that is, an ethically inspired multilateralism via international institutions at “the service of a future shaped by interdependence and shared responsibility in the whole human family of today and tomorrow”.[1]

These efforts find their further outreach in the work of Catholic organisations such as Trócaire which work concretely in the field in order to promote the development of peoples, their human rights and their sustainable livelihood in their communities and countries in ways that protect and foster their natural environments. This is vital work for the welfare of the human family that we support magnanimously as a local Church.

Impulses for our time and society in Northern Ireland

Reflecting on this World Peace Day Message in the light of our own current societal and political situation here in Northern Ireland, a few pertinent thoughts for all citizens emerge from the text of the Message:

Firstly, peace cannot and should not be taken for granted.  It is a “precious value” that requires cultivation and tending in every generation.  This fact requires inculcation in the hearts and minds of our youth, lest some be misled by misguided glorification of violence as a political option.

Secondly, our society as a whole can still benefit from taking to heart the statement that the opposite of peace, war, is “fuelled by a perversion of relationships, by hegemonic ambitions, by abuses of power, by fear of others and by seeing diversity as an obstacle”.[2]

Thirdly, the role and power of “interests”:[3] interests and agendas are always at play in human affairs.  They are often conflicting.  In this regard Pope Francis emphasises the importance of both people’s moral conscience and personal and political will.  He asserts that “peace emerges from the depths of the human heart”.[4]

Our citizenry have made it clear long since that the hard-won peace is their abiding wish. Indeed we await and expect in the coming days what the Pope Francis’ Message describes as a renewal of political will “so that new ways can be found to reconcile and unite individuals and communities”.[5]

Fourthly, as citizens we know, as the Message states, “that the peace process .. requires enduring commitment”, that it is “a patient effort to seek truth and justice, to honour the memory of victims and to open the way, step by step, to a shared hope stronger than the desire for vengeance”.[6]

Furthermore, as citizens, and especially as Christians who hear of the Word of God addressed to us from the Holy Scriptures, we are called to listen to one another, and especially to victims of conflict in such a way that we achieve “mutual understanding and esteem, and even to seeing in an enemy the face of a brother or sister”.[7] This is an ambitious, almost impossible objective, one might opine.

Yet the poignant examples of many of our fellow citizens who suffered indescribably during The Troubles have shown us the way.  We stand in debt to the power and Christian example of their historic and eternal witness.

This 53rd World Peace Day Message touches on several other issues, especially in regard to democracy, the rule of law, under-development, migration, the need to forge a more just economic system for the world economy, some of which have been explored in detail in other statements of the Social Teaching and Thought of the Church. 

That long tradition of social thought and teaching on the organisation and structures of society is a spring-board for the maturation of appreciation and knowledge of our Christian faith, especially for our youth.  As our annual Catholic Schools Week approaches at the end of January, the exploration and presentation of that body of thought is to be recommended to teachers as an assistance of particular value for our youth, as they discern the pertinence of their Christian faith and identity. 

For them and for all of us, as we enter a New Year, let us keep in our hearts and minds the words of Pope Francis: “the culture of fraternal encounter shatters the culture of conflict”.[8]


[1] 53rd World Peace Day Message, par. 1.5.

[2] 53rd World Peace Day Message, par. 1.4.

[3] 53rd World Peace Day Message, par. 2.4.

[4] 53rd World Peace Day Message, par. 2.4.

[5] 53rd World Peace Day Message, par. 2.4.

[6] 53rd World Peace Day Message, par. 2.6.

[7] 53rd World Peace Day Message, par. 2.5.

[8] 53rd World Peace Day Message, par. 5.3.

(Source: Irish Catholic Bishops’ Conference)

Next on Novena:

Presidents of Pax Christi urge “peace and mutual respect” to break “mentality of threats and fears”

Pope pleads on World Day of Peace for a “more just economic system”

Francis: “War kills everything. To defeat it, we need love”

Avatar
Author