1. Good evening. Coming from Jerusalem, I wish all of you the peace of Christ. Jerusalem is still in quest of justice and peace. Jerusalem is still in search of the reconciliation that Christ won there and that went from Jerusalem to the world. Living in a situation of injustice, oppression and violence, as I do, I want to address my message to you this evening, about reconciliation and peacemaking.
I thank Pax Christi USA for the invitation. I enjoy very much being with you these days at the National Assembly to share together our common efforts towards real peace in this country, in my country and in the world. A special word of thanks to Bishop Walter Sullivan, who I met in Amman and Jerusalem some years ago, for his guidance and leadership as the bishop president of Pax Christi USA for over 10 years. I also greet the new Bishop president, Bishop Gabino Zavala from Los Angeles. I wish you, brother bishop, all the best in your efforts to give leadership to this most important Catholic peace movement in USA. I am glad as well to see here present members of our Executive Committee, the International Secretariat and other friends from the global South. This is further evidence that our movement is becoming more and more international, and for this we are truly grateful.
2. Pax Christi International came into being when a group of Catholics in France and in Germany came together and prayed for forgiveness for the terrible slaughter during World War II, an immense tragedy for which all sides in the conflict bore deep responsibility. The first head of Pax Christi was a French Bishop, Pierre Théas, who was imprisoned by the Germans in 1944 after protesting the deportation of Jews. Pax Christi was born out of a commitment to work for peaceful methods of resolving the world’s most intractable problems, encouraging people to hunger and thirst for justice by witnessing to the call of Christian non-violence. By its very title, Pax Christi is pledged to proclaim that the Peace of Christ has been victorious over division and hatred through His death and resurrection.
Pax Christi is a movement within the Church which pledges itself to working for peace not as an option but as an essential feature of the Gospel message, because it bears witness to the effects of the Gospel in renewing lives and building up the kingdom of God on earth. Its membership is open to all men and women who are committed to peace. Pope John Paul II greeted Pax Christi International in May 1995 with these words: ‘Movements like yours are precious… they help to develop conscience so that justice can prevail’.
However, we are not naïve idealists, we realize that God’s peace is broken in our world today. During the first half of the last century, millions of lives were lost in the World Wars. Moreover, in local conflicts all over the world, in the 1990s alone,
These facts and more are a challenge to all of us who profess to live the Christian faith. We must stop viewing media reports of these conflicts as simply another item for the evening news. We must begin to acknowledge the fact that behind the reporting there are real people involved, that serious issues of justice are at stake, matters which cannot, which must not, be ignored. We live in a world that has been shattered by hatred, violence and fear. And our shattered existence cannot be fully restored except by a response that unites justice and forgiveness. The pillars of true peace are justice and that form of love that is forgiveness. Our call today is clear: No peace without Justice - No Justice without Forgiveness. Blessed Pope John the XXIII in his encyclical Pacem in Terris (Peace one Earrth), 40 years ago, has underlined more pillars for a true peace: truth, justice, love and freedom. Paul VI added, in his encyclical Populorum Progressio, that the other name of peace is development.
3. The notion of reconciliation lies at the heart of Pax Christi’s peace work. Conflict resolution can only be successful if it also involves a healing process, for victims as well as perpetrators of violence, and if it takes steps together towards truth and justice. Members of the same family, who have fought one other in times of war, must eventually be reunited at the family table. This does not mean that the past is forgotten or ignored. In the movement toward reconciliation, whether in South Africa, Rwanda, Democratic Republic of Congo, Angola, Mozambique, Haiti, El Salvador, Northern Ireland, in Israel and Palestine or the former Yugoslavia, the call is always for truth, justice and forgiveness and not for amnesia. What are needed in all these situations are sincere acts of justice, repentance and mutual forgiveness, both on the personal and the community level. In the end we, each, are required to face God, to face one another and indeed the whole of humankind.
This process, however, is not an easy one. It may be easy to dream and to talk about a world without weapons, but what is needed today are people who are prepared to commit themselves in very practical ways to achieving that goal. The industry of war has grown to enormous proportions. Now it is the task for all of us to dismantle it.
Pax Christi International will continue to promote dialogue and harmony both at the ecumenical and inter-faith level, recognizing and respecting the search for truth and wisdom that goes on outside our own religious tradition. We will also continue to listen to the cries of the oppressed and, in the spirit of Pacem et Terris, (or “Peace on Earth,”), work with all people of good will in creating a more just and harmonious world. We know that the foundation for all our work must be based on mutual tolerance and respect for religious freedom everywhere.
All forms of discrimination, colonialism, exclusion, exploitation and domination have to be overcome. A sense of shared responsibility and the opportunity for full participation should be a leading principle of institutions at every level. We cannot hope to build a more peaceful world if the rights of minorities and religious and civil freedoms continue to be ignored as they are still in more than one country.
4. All the world remembers September 11th 2001. On that day, a terrible crime was committed: in a few brief hours, the lives of thousands of innocent people of many nationalities and ethnic backgrounds were destroyed. From that day on, many people throughout the world have felt a profound sense of personal vulnerability and a fear for the future.
In the same way the world has lived the 12 years of embargo imposed upon Iraq and the thousands of dead innocent people, children, women or old people. They were the victims of quarrels among world political leaders. The thousands of victims among Palestinians and Israelis, resulting from the non-application of the United Nations resolutions, and the millions of victims in African or other conflicts in the world are also cases of contempt of human life. In these failures, the international community shows its incapacity to stop such inhumanity.
Terrorism not only commits intolerable crimes, but because it resorts to terror as a political and military means to achieve its end, is itself a crime against humanity.
Terrorism sometimes claims that it derives from religious attitudes. We consider these to be wrong religious attitudes, even more, they are opposite to the essence of any religion. Sometimes it claims to be fighting injustice and oppression imposed upon peoples. Whatever the reason, terrorism is an evil to be condemned and to be opposed.
But at the same time, oppressions and injustices that provoke terrorism or give birth to it have to be fought whatever be the form of injustice and oppression, whether a military occupation or the spirit of domination on others.
Pax Christi in its one day consultation, has proposed the concept of “Pre-emptive peace: Beyond Terrorism and Justified War.” As terrorism pretends to have roots in religion, in poverty, in injustice and oppression, this means that we have the need for a new type of human education: in religious life and in political life. The goal of this education is to find new ways to claim peoples’ rights and new ways of acting against injustice and oppression. Finally, this new education will prepare people for a serious action in the domain of development. Beyond a “justified war” means also a new spirit and a new way of initiating a new world order based on equality between peoples and respect of persons and nations. A new education means that in the name of God one cannot kill his brother. In the name of freedom or democracy one cannot kill his brother. To kill one’s brother is the biggest evil in the human life of an individual or of a nation; to kill one’s brother cannot build peace.
Against this backdrop, Pax Christi testifies to its hope, a hope that is based on the conviction that evil does not have the final word in human affairs. Pax Christi hopes that the great nations of this world have enough goodness to change the present world order that sacrifices so many innocent victims through supposed justified wars. Pax Christi hopes that the present world leaders will succeed in replacing pre-emptive war by preemptive peace. Pax Christi hopes as well that those who recourse to terrorism, for whatever reason and in whatever context, will one day recognize their own humanity and the dignity of others, along with their capacity for goodness which God, their Creator and Redeemer, has put in them.
Therefore we proclaim once more the message of hope which comes from Christ: God the Creator loves all men and women and gives them the hope of a new era, an age where peace and justice prevail. This love is fully revealed in Jesus Christ and is the foundation for universal peace. Peace is possible. It must be sought from God as a gift, but it also needs to be built day by day with the help only God can give.
5. We join in solidarity with communities which are suffering and we lift up the cries of the Iraqi people, whose long suffering under authoritarian regimes and in bloody conflict with neighboring Iran has been compounded by over a decade of U.S. bombing and U.N.-imposed economic sanctions. Today after the war, a bigger evil is caused to Iraq and its people: insecurity, deprivations, confusion close to anarchy, and still continuing bloodshed. We reject the manipulated and truncated debate that led to war. The war in Iraq by the US, the UK and their allies was heavily contested by the peace movement in the USA, in Europe and by most of the religious groups. The broader peace movement played a crucial role in shaping public opinion in opposing a war in Iraq. As people of faith, we cannot be silent – and we were not silent. As mentioned several times by the Holy See, a pre-emptive war on Iraq was and is illegal and immoral. The doctrine of pre-emptive war stands in strong contrast to the peace movement’s clear objective of abolishing war altogether and to support a policy of pre-emptive peace. It undermines efforts to build international co-operation, non-proliferation and disarmament. It compromises the integrity of international law and institutions. Pax Christi International commends Pax Christi USA for its fervent opposition to the war in Iraq and for its competent leadership within the peace movement and within our church. And now Iraq needs, in the shortest possible time, a stable and strong government of its own. Do the powers who made war have the capacity to repair the evil of war by a rapid reconstruction of the country? We are still waiting to see. But we are also acting with and calling for all peaceful powers in the world to help Iraq find again itself, its stability and its normal life.
Israeli and Palestinian Conflict
6. When we speak about this conflict, we should always go back to ask ourselves: in what it consists? Why the Israelis and the Palestinians are in conflict? The simple and real answer will shed a light that will render simple and possible the end of the conflict despite its complexity. The real and simple answer is: this conflict consists in the Israeli military occupation of Palestinian land since 1967 and the Palestinian claim for an end to this occupation.
Since two years, with the start of the second Intifada or Palestinian resistance, under the guise of dismantling the infrastructure of Palestinian terrorism, Israeli forces have systematically destroyed almost every political and civil Palestinian institution over the last twelve months. Not only have President Arafat’s government and security services been decimated, banks and businesses, schools and research centers, town halls, media outlets, the land registry and the courts have been violated or destroyed. A peaceful future cannot be shaped in this way.
Pax Christi International deplores the human suffering in the Palestinian Occupied Territories and Israel, that continue unabated despite the Road Map to peace in the region. It is the civilian population, in the Occupied Palestinian Territories and as well as in Israel, that is the victim of this never-ending spiral of violence, of unjust military occupation and of the current political and economic crisis.
Pax Christi International is very concerned about the expanding obstruction that humanitarian and human rights workers, journalists and peace activists have had to endure in this context. Pax Christi International emphasized in its recent recommendations to the UN Commission on Human Rights the necessity of establishing an independent international human rights monitoring body for the Occupied Arab Territories, having a strong and transparent mandate and being directed to make all reports available to the public. This body would have clear directives to put an end to impunity and be empowered to press for the prosecution of violators of human rights and international humanitarian law.
In my country, the role of organizations such as Pax Christi is very important. I appreciate very much the efforts of our movement in bringing together peace and human rights activists from both sides, Israeli and Palestinian, in a spirit of non-violence working for a peaceful solution in our region.
After the war on Iraq, the US has launched a new initiative, the “roadmap” towards peace. The question is: does the US have the political resolve and capacity to implement it? The governments of the European Union have as well their vision of a true and definitive peace in the Middle East but do they also have the political resolve and means to achieve what they see?
It is becoming clearer now that the only practical way forward for Israelis and Palestinians alike is this ‘roadmap’ offered by the Quartet of the EU, the UN, the USA and Russia. However, this ‘roadmap’ should be implemented now, not at some more convenient and distant future, when all ‘violence’ has ceased - as America has demanded of Palestinians for months now. US policy must take into account that addressing the conditions in which violence flourishes is not the same as condoning it! Therefore recognizing the terrible plight of the Palestinian people is a necessity, as much as recognizing the necessity of security for Israelis.
There are numerous potholes, boulders and blind corners in the ‘roadmap’. Those who read the document carefully will see the many ambiguities, such as the question of borders, the policy on settlements in the Occupied Territories, the question of the Refugees, and the final status of Jerusalem. Nonetheless, marking out the route remains a formidable achievement. There are graded confidence-building measures, meticulous timing and a solid commitment to provide the security that will be necessary for the creation of a viable and democratic Palestinian state. The UN’s authorization confers legitimacy; the European Union brings financial resources and Russia strategic depth. The missing ingredient now is strong pressure from the US that would give the final proof for the American commitment to a just peace.
7. The Cold War has ended. Yet this should not permit us to overlook the calamitous damage that the use of nuclear weapons would cause. This danger is still ever present in our world today. A so-called “peace” based on nuclear weapons cannot secure the kind of peace we seek for the 21st century. Nuclear proliferation can only make the possibility of using such weapons all the more real. No government – big or small – can morally justify escalating such a risk.
The presence of weapons of mass destruction in any region of the world, Middle East or elsewhere, represents, in fact, a threat to long-term regional and to global security.
The Pax Christi movement calls again upon all those who possess nuclear weapons, the powerful and less powerful countries alike, to unequivocally renounce their use, regardless of the adversary and regardless of the circumstances, and to eliminate completely their nuclear arsenals. This call is intended to be visionary and prophetic in contrast to the inclination of some governments, including that of the present Bush Administration, to develop new nuclear weapons systems, while forbidding them to others. Today we call again for a total renunciation of nuclear terror.
8. If we truly witness with open hearts and open minds the pain and the grief of those who are trapped in the crossfire of today’s conflicts, we cannot help but be changed. We witness the anguish, confusion and insecurity, experienced by displaced families in Afghanistan, sick and hungry children in Iraq, people permanently maimed in Rwanda, Burundi and the Democratic Republic of Congo, the prospect of millions starving or dying from AIDS in Africa, campesinos in war-torn Colombia, school children in Northern Ireland, the anxiety of people in Israel simply riding a bus to work, Palestinians living under inhuman conditions in the Occupied Territories, poor and marginalized communities in your own country – and we cannot help but grieve. War and terrorism alike destroy the human heart and desecrate the sacred earth that is our common home.
Indeed, we have come to recognize again, as Dr. Martin Luther King reminded us so many years ago, that “wars are poor chisels for carving out peaceful tomorrows.” We must sooner or later make a choice. Either we continue on this path that leads the world ever deeper into war and terrorism, or we develop a new vision of peace and forge a more hopeful path toward a common future. We applaud all who are working sincerely and courageously toward more peaceful solutions to our conflicts, those who are crossing traditional boundaries within their own communities here in the US and elsewhere throughout the world.
Ours is a God who promises life and who inspires hope, a hope that takes root in each of our hearts and strengthens us to offer the best of our prayers, our efforts and our compassion. It compels us to greater solidarity and a commitment to the poor. It moves us to defend the victims of war and terrorism and to struggle alongside those who are excluded from the benefits of the global economy.
Our call at this time in history is a spiritual one. We must learn to wait on God and to return to our deepest centre, where all dwell in the God who is love. We are called by our faith in this God of life and by the gravity of this point in history to read the signs of these times and to act in a manner that is explicitly shaped by the Gospel. As people who are committed to achieving peace through non-violence means, we believe that there is no greater expression or symbol of non-violent love than the way of the cross that Jesus proclaimed – the way of forgiveness and reconciliation.
Triangle for Peace
9. At this point I would like to bring to mind a wonderful legacy within our movement that was accented by Cardinal Feltin when he was President of Pax Christi International during the 1950’s. Feltin spoke of the all-important triangle for building peace: prayer, study and action. Prayer means not only praying for peace; it also means meditative or contemplative prayer that reflects on both the suffering and the promise inherent in the situation and remembers that peace is Jesus’ gift to us and that peace is possible. Study means learning about the historical background of any conflict situation as well as learning all we can of the peace efforts that are being made in the international community and considering these efforts in the light of the Gospel and Catholic social teaching. Finally, action includes not only the numerous activities that so characterize our work as a movement; it also means working against prejudice and stereotypes. It means living reconciliation in all that we do.
It is a wonderful sign of hope that, despite the serious obstacles around us, initiatives for peace continue to spring up each day with the generous cooperation of many people. Peace is a building that is constantly under construction. This building includes things like:
q Parents who are examples and witnesses to peace in their families and who educate their children for peace,
q Teachers who are willing to teach respect for the person and to pass on those values that are present in every field of knowledge and in our common historical and cultural heritage,
q Political leaders who put at the heart of their own policy making and that of their country a firm and unwavering determination to promote peace and justice,
q Those in international organizations who often work with scarce resources on the front line where peacemaking can involve personal risk,
q The members of Non-governmental Organizations who in different parts of the world are dedicated to preventing and resolving conflicts through research and activity, and…
q Believers, who are convinced that authentic faith must never be a source for violence or war; instead it spreads convictions of peace and love through ecumenical and interreligious dialogue.
10. The coming of Christ on earth was first welcomed by the song of the Angels in Bethlehem: “Peace on earth and glory to God in the Highest”. The glory of God in the Highest is the peace between all his children and creatures on earth. Again, when Jesus gave his life for those he loved, St Paul says that He has demolished the wall of separation in His own body. Human nature, being the soil that can receive the seed of evil together with the seed of peace, was purified through his death and Resurrection, and the power of evil was defeated in it. Therefore He became our peace, and He reconciled humanity with God, and gave it the power to be reconciled with each other.
Working to announce and to achieve the ‘Peace of Christ’ (Pax Christi), we believe firmly that peace between men is possible, despite the long human history until our present days, full of wars, violence, oppression and terrorism. And instead of what is proposed today by political planning, i.e. preemptive war, Pax Christi is proposing pre-emptive peace. War is generated in ambitions and injustices as St James says: “Those conflicts and disputes among you, where do they come from? Do they not come from your cravings that are at war within you? You want something and do not have it; so you commit murder, and you covet something and cannot obtain it; so you engage in disputes and conflicts.”. (St James 4: 1-2). St James indicates us one of the most efficient ways of preventing wars and making peace: to fight against evil in ourselves. The more we are powerful against evil in ourselves, the more powerful we are against the evil outside. The more we are powerful against evil in our systems of governing and creating relations, the more powerful we will be in putting limits to evil, terrorism or other forms of violence among peoples.
Pax Christi International will continue to seek effective ways of promoting active non-violence as a means of conflict resolution. Peace education is essential at all levels, if we are to halt the xenophobia and racism that plagues many parts of our world today. Children must be taught to live in a multi-cultural society that respects the rights of others to be different. Religious education must promote a true spirit of openness and tolerance.
In a true religious education there must be three basic elements: the first, faithfulness of the believer to his own religion, excluding any eclecticism. Second, to respect the other in his different religion. The third, to be aware that the essence of all religion is to know God, to love him and to love all his creatures. To be aware that God does not put walls or borders between his children, that religions should rather help to demolish borders in order to build together, in keeping with the grace given by God.
Pax Christi International will continue to seek effective ways of promoting the truth that there is no peace without justice, and no justice without forgiveness. Forgiveness is not a feeling; it is a decision, a decision not to let past injuries block the way to present efforts to find truth, justice, love and freedom, that are the deep and solid foundation of a true and definitive peace.
I wish you a good and fruitful Assembly! May God bless our work together in the days ahead.
+ Michel Sabbah, Latin Patriarch of Jerusalem
President of Pax Christi International