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Give Peace a Chance

Cedric Prakash Cedric Prakash
02 Jan 2023
‘Peace’ is not tokenism, or something which can be easily relegated to a cosmetic exercise or for that matter, ‘the peace of the graveyard’.

Hate… division… discrimination ...demonisation …. denigration ...conflict…violence… war! The reality which has taken centre-stage has gripped India and the world at large, as never before! On Christmas Day, Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) MP from Bhopal, Pragya Singh Thakur, addressing Hindu Jagarana Vedike’s South Region annual convention in Shivamogga, Karnataka  said, “Keep weapons in your homes. At least keep the knives used to cut vegetables sharp. Don’t know what situation will arise when. Everyone has the right to self-protection. If someone infiltrates our house and attacks us, it is our right to respond to them. Just like how knives cut vegetables, it will also chop mouths and heads.” Her attack was directly on the Muslims. She also slammed ‘love jihad’ saying, “They have a tradition of jihad. If they get nothing, they will do love jihad. Even if they love, they do jihad in that”. She did not spare the Christians too saying, “Stop sending children to schools of missionaries. By doing it, you are opening the doors of old age homes for yourselves. The children won’t be yours and of your culture. They grow in the culture of old age homes and become selfish.”

Pragya Thakur undoubtedly spewed venom: a fit case for the law enforcement agencies to arrest her for ‘hate speech’ and even for the Speaker of the Lok Sabha to debar her from Parliament for life. Given the fact that hate and violence are in the DNA of the ruling regime, in all probability she will get away with the call inciting murder. On December 28, ‘Article 14’ -- a joint effort between lawyers, journalists, and academics -- released its latest report titled ‘2022: The Year Hate Got Away Scot-Free in India.’ The report said, “as 2022 came to a close, Article 14 revisited events where Hindu extremists called for violence and the economic exclusion of India’s Muslims, discovering how the climate of impunity allowed them to radicalise Hindus without fear of the law. Even after the Supreme Court directed the governments of UP, Uttarakhand and Delhi to promptly register FIRs against hate speeches in October, Hindu priests and politicians continued gathering for hate events in the country”. Even during this Christmas Season, Christians and their institutions were hounded, harassed and attacked in Chhattisgarh, Karnataka and elsewhere.

In the face of growing violence in India and across the globe, the message of Pope Francis for the 56th World Day of Peace on January 1, 2023 is important and urgent. Pope Francis focuses on the theme, ‘No one can be saved alone. Combatting Covid-19 together, embarking together on paths of peace’. Referring to the First Letter of Saint Paul to the Thessalonians, 5:1-2, Pope Francis says, “When tragic events seem to overwhelm our lives, and we feel plunged into a dark and difficult maelstrom of injustice and suffering, we are likewise called to keep our hearts open to hope and to trust in God, who makes himself present, accompanies us with tenderness, sustains us in our weariness and, above all, guides our path. For this reason, Saint Paul constantly exhorts the community to be vigilant, seeking goodness, justice and truth: ‘So then, let us not fall asleep as others do, but let us keep awake and be sober’ (5:6). His words are an invitation to remain alert and not to withdraw into fear, sorrow or resignation, or to yield to distraction or discouragement.”

Pope Francis has spared no efforts to stop the war in Ukraine and call for peace – global and sustainable. He reiterates this plea in his message saying, “Even so, at the very moment when we dared to hope that the darkest hours of the Covid-19 pandemic were over, a terrible new disaster befell humanity. We witnessed the onslaught of another scourge: another war, to some extent like that of Covid-19, but driven by culpable human decisions. The war in Ukraine is reaping innocent victims and spreading insecurity, not only among those directly affected, but in a widespread and indiscriminate way for everyone, also for those who, even thousands of kilometres away, suffer its collateral effects – we need but think of grain shortages and fuel prices…. This war, together with all the other conflicts around the globe, represents a setback for the whole of humanity and not merely for the parties directly involved. While a vaccine has been found for Covid-19, suitable solutions have not yet been found for the war. Certainly, the virus of war is more difficult to overcome than the viruses that compromise our bodies, because it comes, not from outside of us, but from within the human heart corrupted by sin.”

Further, Pope Francis then challenges the whole of humanity to a radical conversion in order that all may live in peace! He says, “what then is being asked of us? First of all, to let our hearts be changed by our experience of the crisis, to let God, at this time in history, transform our customary criteria for viewing the world around us. We can no longer think exclusively of carving out space for our personal or national interests; instead, we must think in terms of the common good, recognizing that we belong to a greater community, and opening our minds and hearts to universal human fraternity. We cannot continue to focus simply on preserving ourselves; rather, the time has come for all of us to endeavour to heal our society and our planet, to lay the foundations for a more just and peaceful world, and to commit ourselves seriously to pursuing a good that is truly common.”

About sixty years ago, on April 11, 1963, Pope John XXIII (now Saint), shook the foundations of our world, through his path-breaking Encyclical ‘Pacem in Terris’ (Peace on Earth). This was the very first Encyclical by a Pope to be addressed “to all men of goodwill”. The Encyclical was written in the midst of the turbulence and conflicts which had seized several parts of the world at that time: the Cold War, the erection of the Berlin Wall, the Cuban Missile Crisis and much more! 

The full title of the encyclical is ‘On establishing Universal Peace in Truth, Justice, Charity and Liberty’; the words ‘Peace on Earth’ are, in fact, the opening words of the Encyclical. Pope John XXIII had a very clear message in his Encyclical: we need peace on earth urgently; but sustainable and meaningful peace can become a reality only when the four non-negotiable conditions of truth, justice, charity and liberty are complied with. This Encyclical took the world by storm; it also brought to the surface what authentic Christian discipleship is all about. ‘Pacem in Terris’ challenges the followers of Jesus to become peace-makers in a world which was becoming increasingly hate-filled, divisive and violent.

‘Pacem in Terris’ significantly was written in the midst of the Vatican Council trying in a way to position what a Christian witness should be in our world of today. ‘Pacem in Terris’ draws attention to three distinctive characteristics of the world of the early sixties.  First, the working classes were slowly emerging in the social, economic, political and cultural spheres as they insisted “that they be regarded as men with a share in every sector of human society." Secondly, women were "becoming ever more conscious of their human dignity" and claimed “both in domestic and in public life the rights and duties that befit the human person." Thirdly, men and women all over the world desired “the rank of citizens in independent nations". The modern world, thus took "an entirely new appearance in the field of social and political life." Interestingly and painfully striking, the deplorable reality, which Pacem in Terris drew attention to sixty years ago, is today prevalent in India and in our world. We have become fragmented due to consumerism and the ills of globalization, due to religious and ethnic violence, due to war and terrorism. The end of the cold war broke down several barriers which also saw the emergence of new nation States. Our world (and India too!) today is marked with civil, religious and ethnic conflict; peace today, remains distant and elusive.  

One does not need too much of intelligence to realise that today the values of truth, justice, charity and freedom are conveniently swept under the carpet whereas untruth, injustice, hate and servitude hold sway. The ordinary citizen is systematically denied his/her human rights the whole range of them from right to life and liberty, to freedom of speech and expression and freedom of religion and conscience. There are enough of examples to show how the exploited and the excluded, the minorities and the marginalized, women and children, the LGBTQI, the poor and other vulnerable groups are at the receiving end of a brutal and heartless society.  The venom spewed by Pragya Thakur and her ilk clearly reveals the abysmal depths that India has reached! 

Towards the end of his message, Pope Francis brings to the fore the many ills that plague society today and why it is absolutely essential to address these head-long. He says, “In order to do this, and to live better lives after the Covid-19 emergency, we cannot ignore one fundamental fact, namely that the many moral, social, political and economic crises we are experiencing are all interconnected, and what we see as isolated problems are actually causes and effects of one another. Consequently, we are called to confront the challenges of our world in a spirit of responsibility and compassion. We must revisit the issue of ensuring public health for all. We must promote actions that enhance peace and put an end to the conflicts and wars that continue to spawn poverty and death. We urgently need to join in caring for our common home and in implementing clear and effective measures to combat climate change. We need to battle the virus of inequality and to ensure food and dignified labour for all, supporting those who lack even a minimum wage and find themselves in great difficulty. The scandal of entire peoples starving remains an open wound. We also need to develop suitable policies for welcoming and integrating migrants and those whom our societies discard. Only by responding generously to these situations, with an altruism inspired by God’s infinite and merciful love, will we be able to build a new world and contribute to the extension of his kingdom, which is a kingdom of love, justice and peace.”

In the final para of his message, Pope Francis clearly desires that his fervent appeal for peace is heard and heeded by all. “In sharing these reflections, it is my hope that in the coming New Year we can journey together, valuing the lessons that history has to teach us. I offer my best wishes to Heads of State and Government, to Heads of International Organizations, and to the leaders of the different religions. To all men and women of good will I express my prayerful trust that, as artisans of peace, they may work, day by day, to make this a good year! May Mary Immaculate, Mother of Jesus and Queen of Peace, intercede for us and for the whole world.”  It is important to note here that every year on January 1 the Catholic Church celebrates the Solemnity of the Blessed Virgin Mary, the Mother of God.

‘Peace’ is not tokenism, or something which can be easily relegated to a cosmetic exercise or for that matter, ‘the peace of the graveyard’. Peace is essentially something which is vibrant and sustainable-based as Pope John XXIII would like on the four non-negotiables of truth, justice, charity and liberty. Peace is treating the other as an equal, with dignity and respecting his/her rights. Peace becomes meaningful when one has the courage to take a stand against all that is evil and unjust! In 1968, in the wake of the Vietnam War, and taking inspiration from ‘Pacem in Terris’ Pope Paul VI (now a Saint) instituted the World Day of Peace which is celebrated every year on January 1.  He had unequivocally stated that, “if you want peace then work for justice.” This year, the 56th year since the inception of the day, Pope Francis gives us a powerful message. A few years earlier, on September 20, 2016, Pope Francis said in Assisi very strongly “Only peace is holy. Only peace is holy. War never is.” In his Encyclical ‘Fratelli Tutti’ he says, “There is no end to the building of a country’s social peace; rather, it is an open-ended endeavour, a never-ending task that demands the commitment of everyone and challenges us to work tirelessly to build the unity of the nation”. 

The point is: Are we listening? do we have the courage to act now and give peace a chance?

(Cedric Prakash is a human rights, reconciliation & peace activist/writer. Contact: cedricprakash@gmail.com )

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