The Mission of Peace
Peace is founded on the primary relationship that exists between every human being and God himself, a relationship marked by righteousness. Following the voluntary act of man which altered the divine order, the world experienced the shedding of blood and division. Violence made its appearance in interpersonal relationships and in social relationships. Peace and violence cannot dwell together, and where there is violence, God cannot be present.
In biblical revelation peace is much more than the simple absence of war; it represents the fullness of life. Peace is the effect of the blessing that God bestows upon his people, producing fruitfulness, well-being, prosperity, absence of fear, and profound joy.
The promise of peace that runs through the entire Old Testament finds its fulfilment in the person of Jesus, the ‘Prince of Peace’. On the eve of his death, Jesus speaks of his loving relation with the Father and the unifying power that his love bestows upon his disciples. It is a farewell discourse which reveals the profound meaning of his life and can be considered a summary of all his teaching. He says: “Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you; not as the world gives do I give to you” (John 14:27). The words of the Risen Lord are no different; every time he meets his disciples they receive from him the greeting: “Peace be with you” (Luke 24:36, John 20:19, 21, 26).
Working for peace can never be separated from announcing the Gospel, which is in fact the “good news of peace” addressed to all men and women.
Peace is the fruit of justice, understood in the sense of respect for every dimension of the human person. Peace is threatened when man is not given all that is due him as a human person, when his dignity is not respected and when civil life is not directed towards the common good. The defence and promotion of human rights is essential for the building up of a peaceful society and the integral development of individuals, peoples and nations. Peace is also the fruit of love, as Pius XI wrote in the Encyclical Letter Ubi Arcano: “True and lasting peace is more a matter of love than justice, because the function of justice is merely to do away with obstacles to peace: the injury done or the damage caused. Peace itself, however, is an act and only results from love.”
The Church proclaims that violence is never a proper response and that it is evil and unacceptable as a solution to problems. It is also unworthy of man. John Paul II once said that, “Violence destroys what it claims to defend: the dignity the life, the freedom of human beings.”
The Magisterium of the Church condemns the “savagery of war” (Gaudium et spes) and asks that war be considered in a new way. War is a “scourge” (Leo XIII) and is never an appropriate way to resolve problems that arise between nations because it creates new and still more complicated conflicts. As Pius XII in his radio message as World War II was starting: “Nothing is lost by peace; everything is lost by war.” The damage caused by an armed conflict is not only material but also moral.
John XXIII in the Encyclical Letter Pacem in Terris stresses the importance of coming together face to face with a view to avoiding war. He wrote: “There is reason to hope that by meeting and negotiating, men may come to discover better the bonds that unite them together, deriving from the human nature which they have in common; and that they may also come to discover that one of the most profound requirements of their common nature is this: that between them and their respective peoples it is not fear which should reign but love, a love which tends to express itself in a collaboration that is loyal, manifold in form and productive of many benefits.”
The Doctrine of Just War
A war of aggression is intrinsically immoral, and in the tragic case where war breaks out, leaders of the State under attack have the right and duty to organise a defence even using the force of arms (CCC 2265). This is known as the just war doctrine and in order for it to be licit the use of force must meet certain strict conditions: the damage inflicted by the aggressor must be lasting, grave and certain; all other means of putting an end to it must have been shown to be impractical or ineffective; there must be serious prospects of success; and the use of arms must not produce evils and disorders graver than the evil to be eliminated. The evaluation of these conditions is for the prudential judgement of those who have responsibility for the common good (CCC 2309). It is important to note that “it is one thing to wage a war of self-defence; it is quite another to seek to impose domination on another nation. The possession of war potential does not justify the use of force or political or military objectives. Nor does the mere fact that war has unfortunately broken out mean that all is fair between the warring parties.” (Gaudium et Spes)
The requirements of legitimate defence justify the existence of armed forces in States, the activity of which should be at the service of peace. Everyone who serves in the armed forces is concretely called to defend good, truth and justice in the world. Many are those who, in such circumstances, have sacrificed their lives for these values and in defence of innocent lives. Very significant in this regard is the military personnel serving in multinational forces on humanitarian or peace-keeping missions promoted by the United Nations.
Every member of the armed forces is morally obliged to resist orders that call for perpetrating crimes against the law of nations and the universal principles of this law (CCC 2313). Military personnel remain fully responsible for the acts they commit in violation of the rights of individuals and peoples, or of the norms of international humanitarian law. Such acts cannot be justified by claiming obedience to the orders of superiors.
The right to use force for legitimate defence is associated with the duty to protect and help innocent victims who are not able to defend themselves from acts of aggression, including the need to allow humanitarian aid to reach the civilian population. The good of the human person must always take precedence over the interests of the parties to the conflict.
A particular category of war victims is formed by refugees, forced by combat to flee the places where they habitually live and to seek refuge in foreign countries. The Church is close to them, not only with her pastoral presence and material support, but also with her commitment to defend their human dignity.
Attempts to eliminate entire national, ethnic, religious or linguistic groups are crimes against God and against humanity itself. The twentieth century bears the tragic mark of different genocides: including that of Armenians, Ukranians, Cambodians, Africans, and the Holocaust. The international community as a whole has a moral obligation to intervene on behalf of those groups whose very survival is threatened or whose basic human rights are seriously violated. There is also present within the international community an International Criminal Court to punish those responsible for particularly serious acts such as genocide, crimes against humanity, war crimes and crimes of aggression. The Magisterium continues to support this initiative.
The Use of Sanctions
Sanctions which are clearly defined and that are not used as a means to punish entire populations may be used as a means to correct the behaviour of the government or a country that violates the rules of peaceful and ordered international coexistence or that practises serious forms of oppression with regard to its population. The true objective of such measures must be to open the way to negotiation and dialogue.
The Goal of Disarmament
The significant increase in arms represents a grave threat to stability and peace and the Church’s social teaching proposes the goal of “general, balanced and controlled disarmament” (John Paul II). The principle of sufficiency, by virtue of which each State may possess only the means necessary for its legitimate defence, must be applied both by States that buy arms and by those that produce and furnish them. Any excessive stockpiling or indiscriminate trading in arms cannot be morally justified.
Deterrence and the Arms Race
The Magisterium of the Church has also made a moral evaluation of the phenomenon of deterrence. The Catechism (2315) states that “the accumulation of arms strikes many as a paradoxically suitable way of deterring potential adversaries from war. They see it as the most effective means of ensuring peace among nations. The method of deterrence gives rise to strong moral reservations. The arms race does not ensure peace. Far from eliminating the causes of war, it risks aggravating them.” Policies of nuclear deterrence must be replaced with concrete measures of disarmament based on dialogue and multilateral negotiations.
Arms of Mass Destruction
Arms of mass destruction “whether biological, chemical or nuclear” represent a particularly serious threat. Those who possess them have an enormous responsibility before God and all humanity (Gaudium et Spes). The principle of non-proliferation of nuclear arms, together with measures of nuclear disarmament and the prohibition of nuclear tests, are intimately interconnected objectives that must be met as soon as possible. The ban on the development, production, stockpiling and use of chemical and biological weapons as well as the provisions that require their destruction, complete the international regulatory norms aimed at banning such baleful weapons, the use of which is explicitly condemned by the Magisterium. In Gaudium et Spes it is stated: “Any act of war aimed indiscriminately at the destruction of entire cities or extensive areas along with their population is a crime against God and man himself. It merits unequivocal and unhesitating condemnation.” Disarmament must include the banning of weapons that inflict excessive traumatic injury and that strike indiscriminately such as anti-personnel landmines.
The sale and trafficking of weapons constitutes a serious threat to peace and it is vitally important that Governments adopt appropriate measures to control the production, stockpiling, sale and trafficking of such arms in order to stop their growing proliferation.
The use of children and adolescents as soldiers in armed conflicts must be condemned. The use of child soldiers in combat forces of any kind must be stopped and, at the same time, every possible assistance must be given to the care, education, and rehabilitation of those children who have been involved in combat.
Terrorism is one of the most brutal forms of violence traumatising the international community today; it sows hatred, death and an urge for revenge and reprisal (CCC 2297). The targets of terrorist attacks are generally places of daily life and not military objectives in the context of a declared war. Terrorism acts and strikes under the veil of darkness, with no regard for any of the rules by which men have always sought to set limits to conflicts, for example through international humanitarian law. Acts of terrorism strike at the very heart of human dignity and are an offence against all humanity; “there exists, therefore, a right to defend oneself from terrorism.” (JPII)
However, the struggle against terrorism must be carried out with respect for human rights and for the principles of a State ruled by law. The identification of the guilty party must be duly proven, because criminal activity is always personal, and therefore cannot be extended to religions, nations or ethnic groups to which the terrorists belong. It is essential that the use of force, even when necessary, be accompanies by a courageous and lucid analysis of the reasons behind the terrorist attacks.
It is a profanation and a blasphemy to declare oneself a terrorist in God’s name. To define as ‘martyrs’ those who die while carry out terrorist attacks distorts the concept of martyrdom, which is the witness of a person who gives himself up to death rather than deny God and his love. Martyrdom cannot be the act of a person who kills in the name of God. No religion may tolerate terrorism much less preach it. Rather, religions must work together to remove the causes of terrorism and promote friendship among peoples.
The Church’s Mission to Promote Peace
The promotion of peace is an integral part of the Church’s mission of continuing Christ’s work of redemption on earth. In fact, the Church is, in Christ, a sacrament or sign and instrument of peace in the world and for the world. Inspired by the person of Christ and the peace he left to his disciples the Church intends to promote the unity of Christians and a fruitful cooperation with believers of other religions. Differences of religion must not be a cause of conflict. The Church calls on individuals, peoples, States and nations to share her concern for re-establishing and consolidating peace, placing particular emphasis on the important role of international law.
True peace can only be made possible through forgiveness and reconciliation. It is not easy to forgive when faced with the consequences of war and conflict because violence, especially when it leads to inhumanity and suffering, leaves behind a heavy burden of pain. This pain can only be eased by a deep, faithful and courageous reflection on the part of all parties, a reflection capable of facing present difficulties with an attitude that has been purified by repentance. The weight of the past, which cannot be forgotten, can be accepted only when mutual forgiveness is offered and received: this is a long and difficult process, but one that is not impossible.
It is through prayer that the Church engages in the battle for peace. Prayer opens the heart to a deep relationship with God and an encounter with others marked by respect, understanding, esteem and love. Liturgical prayer and, in particular, the Eucharistic celebration, is a limitless wellspring for all authentic Christian commitment to peace.
The World Day of Peace instituted by Pope Paul VI are particularly intense moments of prayer for peace and for the commitment to build a world of peace. The papal messages on these days represent a rich source for the renewal and development of the Church’s social doctrine and show the Church’s commitment to promotion of peace.