Peace is ‘a spiritual goal,’ Archbishop Gallagher says

Archbishop Paul Gallagher, the Holy See's Secretary for Relations with States

Archbishop Paul Gallagher, the Holy See’s Secretary for Relations with States

Peace is “ultimately a spiritual goal” and, as such, religions have “an important role” to play in creating a culture of peace, said Archbishop Paul R. Gallagher, the Holy See’s Secretary for Relations with States, at a conference organized by The Lay Centre last month.

The archbishop was the main speaker at the conference, which had as its theme “Creating a Culture of Peace: What Can Religions Do?”

Below, The Lay Centre presents excerpts from Archbishop Gallagher’s discourse. The full text of his presentation was published in L’Osservatore Romano, English edition. The Italian translation of his text is available here.

“Peace is certainly more than an absence of war, as the Second Vatican Council reminded us, but it is a necessary starting point for the creation of a culture of peace. …

The ‘inevitability of war’ is one of the recurring motifs that undermines the creation of a culture of peace, to succumb to this ‘inevitability’ is to subscribe to a culture of war and death that awaits with cruel cynicism the ‘peace’ that comes with total annihilation and destruction of the other. The logic of total war can only end in defeat, for what prize is victory if all is destroyed? War exists in many forms: cold wars, frozen conflicts and proxy wars. In every continent we see wars in all its forms. Insofar as they do not affect us directly, there is a risk the world settles for managing the inevitability of war when conflict seems to be irresolvable, or worse still, that war is necessary to resolve them. War, as Pope Francis has repeatedly reminded us, ‘is never a necessity, nor is it inevitable’ because there is another way: ‘the way of dialogue, encounter and the sincere search for truth’ (Cfr. Message of His Holiness Pope Francis to the participants in the International Peace Meeting organized by the Community of Sant’Egidio, Antwerp, 7-9 September 2014). …

Notwithstanding the importance of political and economic agreements and the activities of international diplomacy to resolve disputes and to maintain peace among nations, peace is ultimately built on a deeper sense of cooperation and solidarity. Peace is ultimately a spiritual goal…

The fact that 84% of the world’s population describe themselves as belonging to a religion and that in the vast majority of countries religious believers are more than 95%, would suggest that religions, do indeed have an important role to play in creating a culture of peace. This capacity for belief represents a huge potential for the future of humanity, to believe in God is to believe that humanity has been created by and for a higher good. Religious belief does not diminish humanity’s potential, rather, it enables humanity to realise its full potential. The religious calling helps humanity in its capacity to make peace – that peace is possible!

In discussing the role of religions in creating a culture of peace we should also bear in mind the oft-repeated accusation that religions are the cause of war and conflict and the utopian assertion that a world without religion would be a world without conflict. Such assertions do not stand up to even the most cursory critique: to begin with, most conflicts, whether political or economic, have nothing to do with religion, and oftentimes they have been fought by co-religionists. Even when a conflict appears to be religious in nature, closer inspection usually confirms that there are other elements, whether ethnic or cultural, which are the primary causes. There remains, however, an important issue to be addressed: religion can be manipulated – and is – to justify extremism and violence. Where this occurs, religious leaders must be prompt and unequivocal in condemning the use of religion to justify violence and war. Pope Francis has been very clear on this point. During his visit to Albania in September 2014 he stated the following: ‘This means that all those forms [of religion and ethics] which present a distorted use of religion, must be firmly refuted as false since they are unworthy of God or humanity. Authentic religion is a source of peace and not of violence! No one must use the name of God to commit violence! To kill in the name of God is a grave sacrilege. To discriminate in the name of God is inhuman … (Pope Francis, Meeting with the Leaders of Other Religions and Other Christian Denominations, Tirana, 21 September 2014). …

What can Religions Do?

(T)he statistics would suggest that religions should be at the forefront of creating a culture of peace. Religions have an important role in promoting the values that are essential to creating a culture of peace. Thus, religious leaders have a particular responsibility to promote tolerance and reconciliation and to reject the misuse of religion as a justification for violence. …

Religions have a particular role, we are called to reflect, and in the light of our religious traditions, (to) develop appropriate ethics regarding war and peace. In this regard, a culture of peace should not be reduced to pacifism. As Pope Francis reminded us upon his return flight from Korea last year, in the face of evil, it is legitimate to stop the unjust aggressor. But to determine what is just and unjust, religion has a particular role in providing the moral and ethical framework for such reflection.

Another aspect of building peace, noted by Pope Paul VI, are the ‘works of peace’, which characterised the many religious peace movements that were founded in the immediate aftermath of World War II…

One such movement, in the Catholic-Christian tradition, is Pax Christi, which was founded in France in the months prior to the end of the Second World War by Bishop Pierre-Marie Théas, the Bishop of Montauban in the South of France, and a laywoman, Marthe Dortel-Claudot. …

The role of Marthe Dortel-Claudot in founding Pax Christi is a powerful reminder that individual believers have a role and a responsibility to create a culture of peace, within their families, within their workplaces and communities. Her example, and of countless men and women of faith, is the answer to the question where should creating a culture of peace begin: it begins with each of us and it reaffirms that the personal witness and prayer of individual members of a faith community can be transformative.

The most important and specific contribution that religions can make to creating a culture of peace is the gift of prayer, especially that of praying for one’s enemies which is the ultimate act of charity that transforms hate to love and brings about reconciliation. …

Peace is a central concept to all religions. We pray for the blessing of peace, for the gift of peace. During the Easter season, Christians are conscious that the first gift bestowed by the Risen Christ was the gift of peace. He greeted the disciples with the gift of peace: ‘Peace be with you.’ During this time of Easter we receive anew the gift of Christ’s peace, but it is a gift that is meant to transform our lives so that we may in turn be bearers of that gift of peace in the world in which we live, so that it too may be transformed by the gift of peace.”

Read the full text of Archbishop Gallagher’s presentation here. Read the Italian translation of his text.

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