“FIGHTING POVERTY TO BUILD PEACE”
In the liturgical calendar, January 1 has had many titles: it is the Octave Day of Christmas, the Feast of the Holy Name of Jesus, and the Feast of the Lord’s Circumcision. Since Vatican II the liturgy has retrieved a venerable title for January 1 which celebrates Our Lady’s divine maternity. Thus the feast day that used to be more Christological is now seemingly a Marian feast under the title of Mary – Mother of God.
In recent decades, beginning with the threats of the Cold War, January 1 has also been observed as World Peace Day. The initiation of World Peace Day was taken by Pope Paul VI and continued every year during the long reign of John Paul II. Pope Benedict XVI continued this important tradition with the 2006 World Day of Peace message, under the title – “In Truth, Peace”. Speaking for himself Pope Benedict wrote as follows: “This, my first message for the World Day of Peace, is meant to follow in the path of my predecessor. With it I wish to reiterate the steadfast resolve of the Holy See to continue serving the cause of peace. The very name Benedict, which I chose on the day of my election to the Chair of Peter, is a sign of my personal commitment to peace. In taking this name, I wanted to evoke St. Benedict, a patron saint of Europe who, through the monastic movement, inspired the civilization of peace. I also wanted to evoke the memory of Pope Benedict XV who condemned World War I as ‘useless slaughter’ and worked diligently for the universal acknowledgement of the lofty demand of peace.” Pope Benedict’s 2007 World Day of Peace message was masterful. It bore the title “The Human Person, the Heart of Peace”. It made luminously clear the truth that we cannot leave the work of peace and justice to political figures only or to the so-called experts. If it is true that the heart of peace is found potentially within the human person, each of us, especially at the Eucharist, must say – “Then peace must begin with me”. As the Holy Father wrote – “A fundamental element of building peace is the recognition of the essential equality of human persons springing from their common transcendental dignity. Peace is based on the rights of all.” The Pope’s 2008 message was entitled – “The Human Family, A Community of Peace”. As is obvious in our individualistic and hedonistic society, which is so hostile to the institution of family and the institution of marriage and the non-transferable role of the family in human society, the role of the family for world peace is essential.
We come now in the past reflection to the Holy Father’s 2009 World Day of Peace message. It is entitled – “Fighting Poverty to Build Peace”. The text reads as follows: “Once again, as the new year begins, I want to extend good wishes for peace to people everywhere. With this Message I would like to propose a reflection on the theme: Fighting Poverty to Build Peace. Back in 1993, my venerable Predecessor Pope John Paul II, in his Message for the World Day of Peace that year, drew attention to the negative repercussions for peace when entire populations live in poverty. Poverty is often a contributory factor or a compounding element in conflicts, including armed ones. In turn, these conflicts fuel further tragic situations of poverty. ‘Our world’, he wrote, ‘shows increasing evidence of another grave threat to peace: many individuals and indeed whole peoples are living today in conditions of extreme poverty. The gap between rich and poor has become more marked, even in the most economically developed nations. This is a problem which the conscience of humanity cannot ignore, since the conditions in which a great number of people are living are an insult to their innate dignity and as a result are a threat to the authentic and harmonious progress of the world community’
In this context, fighting poverty requires attentive consideration of the complex phenomenon of globalization. This is important from a methodological standpoint, because it suggests drawing upon the fruits of economic and sociological research into the many different aspects of poverty. Yet the reference to globalization should also alert us to the spiritual and moral implications of the question, urging us, in our dealings with the poor, to set out from the clear recognition that we all share in a single divine plan: we are called to form one family in which all – individuals, peoples and nations – model their behavior according to the principles of fraternity and responsibility.
This perspective requires an understanding of poverty that is wide-ranging and well articulated. If it were a question of material poverty alone, then the social sciences, which enable us to measure phenomena on the basis of mainly quantitative data, would be sufficient to illustrate its principal characteristics. Yet we know that other, non-material forms of poverty exist which are not the direct and automatic consequence of material deprivation. For example, in advanced wealthy societies, there is evidence of marginalization, as well as affective, moral and spiritual poverty, seen in people whose interior lives are disoriented and who experience various forms of malaise despite their economic prosperity. On the one hand, I have in mind what is known as ‘moral underdevelopment’, and on the other hand the negative consequences of ‘superdevelopment’. Nor can I forget that, in so-called ‘poor’ societies, economic growth is often hampered by cultural impediments which lead to inefficient use of available resources. It remains true, however, that every form of externally imposed poverty has at its root a lack of respect for the transcendent dignity of the human person. When man is not considered within the total context of his vocation, and when the demands of a true ‘human ecology’ are not respected, the cruel forces of poverty are unleashed, as is evident in certain specific areas of the world today.” All these words of Benedict XVI certainly can be most helpful as we learn the lesson he’s teaching us, i.e., in order to build peace, we must fight poverty.