Sunday, December 18, 2016

A world war fought piecemeal

Pope Francis has issued a World Day of Peace (that's January 1) message which confusingly came out last week. A December 8 release honoring Mary is traditional, but really, the Vatican needs a media operation that understands news cycles if it wants attention. In this case, does it want attention?

The message is titled Nonviolence: a Style of Politics for Peace.

If I'm to believe Google in English (and perhaps I shouldn't) pretty much the only people paying attention are sympathetic Catholic news outfits. A writer at America (the Jesuit magazine) essentially reassures -- nothing new to see here. The National Catholic Reporter provides a competent summary without suggesting that any ground has been broken. Catholics who have long worked for alternatives to violence, such as the former Jesuit Fr. John Dear think they see a long overdue call for Christian witness to emulate Jesus' example of nonviolent resistance to empire and war. They may be over-spinning ... or perhaps not.

I'm not inside this culture of decoding pontifical pronouncements, so I'm just going to pass along part of the Pope's message that I find a perceptive description of the world's messy condition.

A broken world
While the last century knew the devastation of two deadly World Wars, the threat of nuclear war and a great number of other conflicts, today, sadly, we find ourselves engaged in a horrifying world war fought piecemeal. It is not easy to know if our world is presently more or less violent than in the past, or to know whether modern means of communications and greater mobility have made us more aware of violence, or, on the other hand, increasingly inured to it.

In any case, we know that this “piecemeal” violence, of different kinds and levels, causes great suffering: wars in different countries and continents; terrorism, organized crime and unforeseen acts of violence; the abuses suffered by migrants and victims of human trafficking; and the devastation of the environment. Where does this lead? Can violence achieve any goal of lasting value? Or does it merely lead to retaliation and a cycle of deadly conflicts that benefit only a few “warlords”?

Violence is not the cure for our broken world. Countering violence with violence leads at best to forced migrations and enormous suffering, because vast amounts of resources are diverted to military ends and away from the everyday needs of young people, families experiencing hardship, the elderly, the infirm and the great majority of people in our world. At worst, it can lead to the death, physical and spiritual, of many people, if not of all.

As the barbarism of the 20th century fades from living memory, are we humans doomed to repeat its horrors? There are numerous countervailing forces (Pope Francis is one among them as is global business' preference for stability). But given our greedy and fractious human nature, it's probably a near thing ...

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