Recalling bishops' letter on peace - Catholic Courier
Matthew H. Clark Matthew H. Clark

Recalling bishops’ letter on peace

As a young child during World War II, I was imprinted with a deep love of my country and respect for the brave men and women who risked their lives to serve in the armed forces. But I also grew up very much aware of the horrors of war and the deeply disturbing moral dilemmas that exist in any armed conflict, even one that seemed so clearly justified as World War II. The bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki initiated an arms race that fearfully escalated into the Cold War era, in which the nuclear clock seemed to tick ever closer to annihilation. So it was with a tremendous sense of gratitude that one of my earliest experiences of collaboration with the other U.S. bishops was the drafting and approval, 29 years ago this month, of the pastoral letter "The Challenge of Peace: God’s Promise and Our Response."

I still remember the bishops’ spontaneous standing ovation as we approved the document and the intense feeling that it had grown on a wave of prayers and sacrifices from many who knew that it was time to speak out. Not only did that document clearly call for a halt to the nuclear arms race, but it proposed an alternate way to peace: a way that would require commitment to dialogue, patience, wisdom and a conversion of heart. It called all people to be engaged in the work of peace-building through their prayers, sacrifices and political engagement. The document recognized the arms race not only as a danger to peace, providing a false sense of security, but as an "aggression against the poor" diverting resources from necessary services and constructive development into a competition for military might. It reminds us that the sacredness of every human being created in the image of God should make every Christian "approach the problem of war and peace with fear and reverence." One of the truly remarkable developments in the document was the affirmation of nonviolence as not only a permissible individual response to conflict but often the best long-term solution for nations. The ultimate goal for both nonviolence and just-war theory is the avoidance of war; both "share a common presumption against the use of force as a means for settling disputes." How often have nations moved to violence long before all peaceful solutions have been exhausted? Today’s weapons have such a terrible potential for destruction; the whole world should be working to avoid their use. As Christians we recognize the fallibility of the world in which we live. But often it’s easier to see the flaws of others than to look within our own hearts and see the ways we contribute to or take away from the world’s peace. Do we pray for peace daily and seek to learn about people of other faiths and other nationalities? Do we teach our children constructive ways to deal with conflict? Do we engage the political process to shape just policies that promote development in impoverished regions?

I can see many signs of progress in the ways of peacemaking, not least among them the end of the Cold War, the growth of democracy and the success of nonviolent movements for independence and justice such as those in South Africa, Poland and more recently in the Middle East. As we all know, however, the threats to peace continue in new ways with the growth of terrorism and the continuous development of new weapons of war.

I have far more questions than answers for these issues, but I offer the following concerns in hope that new, energetic voices might raise solutions.

How can we reduce and control the proliferation of arms? What is our responsibility when human rights are threatened anywhere in the world? What creative tools can we use short of force? How can we promote a more respectful and sustainable use of the world’s resources? Nuclear weapons remain a clear threat to humankind. How can we move forward in reducing and securing current stockpiles while dissuading others from acquiring them? Now, the United States leads in the development and use of "drone" technology for surveillance and targeting enemy combatants. But, in reducing risk to our own troops, will this technology make it easier to resort to arms before exhausting all peaceful means of resolving conflict?

How can we ensure that those who have served receive the care and support they deserve when they return from battle?

I encourage all of you to raise your own questions and seek to be the peacemakers the world so desperately needs. I leave you with these words from "The Challenge of Peace":

"In the words of our Holy Father, we need a ‘moral about face.’ The whole world must summon the moral courage and technical means to say ‘no’ to nuclear conflict; ‘no’ to weapons of mass destruction; ‘no’ to an arms race which robs the poor and the vulnerable; and ‘no’ to the moral danger of a nuclear age which places before humankind indefensible choices of constant terror or surrender. Peacemaking is not an optional commitment. It is a requirement of our faith. We are called to be peacemakers, not by some movement of the moment, but by our Lord Jesus. The content and context of our peacemaking is set, not by some political agenda or ideological program, but by the teaching of his Church.’’

Peace to all.

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