The Catholic Church does not only proclaim peace, but also lives out and promotes peace in the world. One of the Church’s vocation and mission is to live in the peace which God has given for the Church, and to promote such peace around the world. This simple presentation is going to discuss several aspects of the Social Teachings of the Church on peace.
1. Biblical Foundation of Peace
The Bible speaks often about peace, and there we can find the foundational understanding of peace which is essential in the Social Teachings of the Church on peace.
a. Peace as God’s identity. “javè è paz” (Judges 6.24). This kind of peace is not something that exists only in life, but is the essence of God’s identity. In the book of Genesis, God created all things and all things were united, living together in harmony, and He saw that it was good. In God’s law, everything that God created lives in a beautiful reality because God is the source and the centre of this life. But, when men and women whom God created according to God’s image do not live according to God’s law - not adhering to God’s voice and preferring the voices of others - men and women fell out of their original existence, resulting in incredulity, ignorance and violence. (Gen. 11.1-9).
b. Biblical prosperous peace does not simply mean the non-existence of war, but rather, it is principally a fullness/fulfilment of life (Mal. 2.5) in abundance, ‘Shalom’ in Hebrew or ‘eirene’ in Greek. This fullness of life is a gift and a grace from God. God gives the fullness of life as a gift for all of His people and asks the people to live in that fullness of life in which God is the source and the centre. God cares for all of His people and gives them shalom. (Deut. 6.26).
c. The Scriptures also talk about the Messianic vision of peace wherein a new world will be created with peace embracing all of creation (Is. 11.6-9). Everyone will go to the house of God, that He may teach them His ways, and all people will walk in the light of the Lord (Is. 2.2-5). In this peaceful messianic vision, the Messiah is called as “The Prince of Peace” (Is. 9.5).
d. This messianic promise of peace is realised in Christ. When He comes, the angels raise their voices praising God in the Highest and may peace be on earth. This song of praise also reveals the one to come as Prince of Peace, a realisation of the messianic promise. When Jesus was raised from the dead and appeared before His disciples, the words that He repeatedly gave to the disciples were “Peace be with you” (Lk 24.36, Jn. 20.19).
e. The peace of Christ is a reconciliation with God and our reconciliation with each other. St. Paul firmly expressed that Christ is our peace (Shalom). Jesus breaks down any barrier, or anything which separates us from God, and unites us with God. (Eph. 2.14-16). Jesus calls us to continue this mission of peace. When He sent His disciples on a mission, He said, “whatever house you enter, let your first words be ‘Peace to this house!’” (Lk. 10.5).
f. The work for peace must not be separated from the proclamation of the Gospel. Anyone who lives in peace, brings witness to and promotes peace, is proclaiming the Gospel. St. Paul talks about the vocation of all followers of Christ is to have peace and love as shields and truth as their waist belt to proclaim “The Gospel of Peace.” (Eph. 6.13-15).
2. Peace as the Fruit of Justice and Charity
Peace cannot be understood in itself, but its fundamentally rooted in God as the source of life, truth and love. The Church teaches us that peace is a fruit, or a result, of justice (Is. 32.17) which closely implies the dignity of all people. Justice leads us to respect every person as a dignified human being and to work for the common good of all creation. Peace is also a fruit of charity which is nourished by love, patience, and forgiveness.
As a fruit of justice and charity, both of which are integral aspects of the dignity of all people, peace has to be part of everyone’s responsibility. An act of violence can never be a just nor can be justified tool of peace. Our world today needs prophetic witnesses of peace, truth and charity to sustain and maintain peace on earth.
The Church is never silent in the face of persisting injustice, manipulation and violence. The life the Church shows a missionary commitment for peace and through the structure of the Church also facilitates ways to bring about peace. Every diocese around the world has an active commissioning body to facilitate mission for justice, peace and the integrity of creation.
The Church in her mission to bring about peace plays an integral part in Christ’s mission. The Church, in Christ, is a sacrament of peace on earth. To promote peace is also an expression of Christian faith, as much as to live in peace, unity and love is an identity of Christian faith. The Church - through the Papal encyclicals and apostolic exhortations - always calls people to work towards peace with just means for common good, so that rules, international laws, social structures in economy and political spheres may be transformed. The Church condemns any form of violence and brutal acts of terrorism with no exception. The Church teaches people that true peace can be achieved through forgiveness and reconciliation. On the other hand, forgiveness must not prevent justice and truth. Justice and truth are concrete means in establishing peace.
Through the official documents, the Church reminds all people around the world, leaders of nations and all people of goodwill to collaborate and work together for peace and reconciliation. The local Churches in their own contextualised ways have been taking concrete actions towards peace, justice, truth and the integrity of creation.
More importantly, the Church continuously prays that all people may live in peace and love, that everyone may live in shalom. In the international sphere, the Pope has invited world-wide leaders of all religions to pray for peace in Assisi; in the local sphere, there are numerous initiatives for the local Churches to promote collaboration with other religions and with all people of good will to promote peace and justice, so that everyone, yes, all of us, can live in shalom. (P. Gabriel Suban Koten, SVD)