A PRESS STATEMENT ON THE 50TH WORLD DAY OF PEACE
BY THE JUSTICE, DEVELOPMENT AND PEACE CENTRE
CATHOLIC ARCHDIOCESE OF LAGOS
JANUARY 1, 2017.
LET THE GUNS SEIZE! EMBRACING NONVIOLENT MEANS OF CONFLICT RESOLUTION
Today, in the Church’s calendar, the peoples of the world are reminded of an oft foot-noted aspect of human existence, which, if paid more than a passing attention to, has the potentialities of turning the burning world into an elixir. That aspect is Peace or lack of it. The obverse of peace is not necessarily violence but lack of justice. It is injustice that obviates peace and enthrones actions and activities that produce debilitating conditions, the end of which is cataclysm.
Today in his message, Nonviolence: A style of politics for peace, for the 50th World Day of Peace, celebrated each year on 1 January, Pope Francis urges people everywhere to practice active nonviolence and notes that the “decisive and consistent practice of nonviolence has produced impressive results.” The Justice, Development and Peace Centre is heartened by and deeply grateful for the call made by the Holy Father to political and religious leaders, heads of international organizations, and business and media executives to “apply the Beatitudes in the exercise of their respective responsibilities. It is a challenge to build up society, communities and businesses by acting as peacemakers. It is to show mercy by refusing to discard people, harm the environment, or seek to win at any cost. …To act in this way means to choose solidarity as a way of making history and building friendship in society. Active nonviolence is a way of showing that unity is truly more powerful and more fruitful than conflict.”
Clearly, the Word of God, the witness of Jesus, should never be used to justify violence, injustice or war. We confess that the people of God have betrayed this central message of the Gospel many times, participating in wars, persecution, oppression, exploitation, and discrimination.
If anybody thinks that the end of the last World War heralds peace, the current acts of violence will surely change the views of such optimists because the world is now engaged in an undeclared war or as Pope Francis coined it, most aptly “horrifying world war fought piecemeal”. The leaders of the world seem not to take seriously the admonition of St Francis of Assisi who insisted that as “you announce peace with your mouth, make sure you have greater peace in your hearts”. That is exactly where the problem lies. Often, on many occasions, the leaders of the world (political, civil and religious) behave as ostrich by sending out sweet, mellifluous messages of peace even when they and their cronies surreptitiously do everything within their powers to undermine the same peace by their actions and inactions. To all peoples of the world, Pope Francis, in his October 2016 speech to Muslim Sheikhs reminds all that non-violence is not coterminous with passivity or surrender but engaging in proactive actions and that “the name of God cannot be used to justify violence”.
Unfortunately today, it is extremely difficult to spot any part of globe that is tranquil. The present spate of bellicosity manifests in many ways: kidnapping, religious bigotry, terrorism, hate rhetoric, trafficking in persons, oppression and repression of the minorities and the underprivileged, sex abuse, electoral violence, etc. All these result in involuntary movement of and displacement of persons with all the attendant negatives. Worse still, those who ignite such despicable fire are daily stoking it up.
In our dear country Nigeria, since the military rule, the situation can be described as Trojan fuit (Troy was, Troy is no more). Owing to the fact that the elites find it profitable and convenient to use the hungry masses as instruments for their political and economic ends, the peoples of the once-tranquil Country are now moving centrifugally, such that many decades after independence, the nation is in dire search of a common nationhood and this results in suspicion and many declared and undeclared wars in the following areas: difficulty in recruiting leaders through normal democratic process; war of attrition amongst component nations; the rise of a strange phenomenon called Boko Haram; hoofed or herdsmen invaders; sex slavery and trafficking in persons; hunger and destitution; the cornering of the common patrimony and the res publica of the federation by few oligarchs and their cronies; hopelessness and helplessness; vandalization, hijacking, kidnapping and a general war against fellow citizens and aliens.
As a nation we must accept the fact that Violence begets violence. Even in moments where we feel that we have a “just cause” to resort to violence; moments where we feel that due to ethnic, religious, cultural and political oppression, discrimination and marginalisation, violence becomes inevitable, we must realize that violence breeds a legacy of armed conflict – trauma; a culture of violence; cycles of revenge, bitterness and hatred may not be easily reconciled; tribalism and division; the militarisation of society and politics; corruption and nepotism; authoritarianism; poverty and illiteracy; the dehumanisation of the individual and the lack of respect for human life – all these and more have left their marks on the human psyche. Little wonder therefore, when situations that are untoward rare their heads the cycle of violence resumes again. This cycle of violence must be broken, radically, and it can only be done so by a new paradigm of nonviolent peace building.
The political class seem so distant from the people and the people, now enfeebled, seem so docile that most had surrendered to fate by adopting the ignoble philosophy of siddon look. Of all these ills, the most excruciating and irksome is political corruption.
The JUSTICE, DEVELOPMENT AND PEACE CENTRE, ever more committed to a more just and peaceful world seeks to remind us all that we are called to take a clear stand for creative and active nonviolence and against all forms of violence. In his own times, rife with structural violence, Jesus proclaimed a new, nonviolent order rooted in the unconditional love of God. Jesus called his disciples to love their enemies (Matthew 5: 44), which includes respecting the image of God in all persons; to offer no violent resistance to one who does evil (Matthew 5: 39); to become peacemakers; to forgive and repent; and to be abundantly merciful (Matthew 5-7). Jesus embodied nonviolence by actively resisting systemic dehumanization, as when he defied the Sabbath laws to heal the man with the withered hand (Mark 3: 1-6); when he confronted the powerful at the Temple and purified it (John 2: 13-22); when he peacefully but determinedly challenged the men accusing a woman of adultery (John 8: 1-11); when on the night before he died he asked Peter to put down his sword (Matthew 26: 52). Neither passive nor weak, Jesus’ nonviolence was the power of love in action. In vision and deed, he is the revelation and embodiment of the Nonviolent God, a truth especially illuminated in the Cross and Resurrection. He calls us to develop the virtue of nonviolent peacemaking.
We advocate that we are in need of a new framework that is consistent with Gospel nonviolence. A different path is clearly unfolding in recent Catholic social teaching. Pope John XXIII wrote that war is not a suitable way to restore rights; Pope Paul VI linked peace and development, and told the UN “no more war”; Pope John Paul II said that “war belongs to the tragic past, to history”; Pope Benedict XVI said that “loving the enemy is the nucleus of the Christian revolution”; and Pope Francis said “the true strength of the Christian is the power of truth and love, which leads to the renunciation of all violence. Faith and violence are incompatible”. He has also urged the “abolition of war”.
With the Catholic Nonviolence Initiative, we advocate “A Just Peace” approach. This approach offers a vision and an ethic to build peace as well as to prevent, defuse, and to heal the damage of violent conflict. This ethic includes a commitment to human dignity and thriving relationships, with specific criteria, virtues, and practices to guide our actions. We recognize that peace requires justice and justice requires peacemaking. In response to what is a global epidemic of violence, which Pope Francis has labeled a “world war in installments”, we are being called to invoke, pray over, teach and take decisive action, and advance non-violence means of resolving conflict.
So our plea is, in all fronts is: let the guns seize (literally and metaphorically); let us embrace non-violent means of conflict resolution.
REV. FR. RAYMOND ANOLIEFO
MR JOE NKAMUKE
Click to download the World Day of Peace Press Statement