1 JANUARY 2011

• “World Day of Peace is the day when we as Catholics are invited to pray for peace in the world … peace in mind, peace of heart, peace in our homes, peace in our families, peace with our neighbours, peace with our Creator”
• “It is so sad to hear reports recently of people being again recruited and trained to carry and use weapons of death and destruction against fellow human beings on this island”
– Cardinal Brady

I wish you all a prosperous, peaceful and blessed New Year.  I hope that despite the frost and the snow, the frozen pipes and the slippery roads, you had a peaceful Christmas.

I think one of the loveliest things about Christmas is the message of the angels to the Shepherds: “Glory to God in the highest heavens and on earth, peace among those whom he favours”

The heavenly multitude of angels had come to Bethlehem to back up their colleague who had just announced, to the shepherds, the good news of great joy: “Do not be afraid for see – to you is born this day in the City of David, a Saviour – who is the Messiah – the Lord.  He is to be found lying in a manger”. Some thirty years later and the Saviour is about to go to his death and, as his parting message, he leaves to his disciples these words: “Peace – I leave you, my peace I give to you.  I do not give to you as the world gives.  Do not let your hearts be troubled and do not let them be afraid”

Fast forward two thousand years and today we find the Church – the body of Christ – celebrating the Solemnity of Mary, Mother of God.  It opens with these majestic words: “A light will shine on us this day.  The Lord is born for us.  He shall be called Wonderful God – Prince of Peace, Father of the World to come and His kingship shall never end”.

Some forty-four years ago, Pope Paul VI – decided to declare each first January 1 as the World Day of Peace.  In other words, this is the day when the Catholics are invited to pray for peace in the world.

Twenty-five years ago in 1985, Pope John Paul II called the leaders of the great world religious to Assisi.  There they testified to the fact that religion is a factor of union and peace and not of division and conflict.  So obviously “peace comes dropping slow” as the poet said but the fact is that it is coming.  Have no fear or worry about that and you and I are called to play our part in it as agents of justice.

Pope Benedict has written a twelve page message of this day.  You will be glad to know I have decided to pinch a few topics only for comment. “The Prince of Peace leaves us his peace.  But he does not give peace as the world gives peaces.  Peace as the world understands it is the mere absence of war or else it is the result of military supremacy or of clever manipulation.  Instead, peace is the result of a process of purification” says Pope Benedict.

“This process involves purification of all our sins – not just of one sin or of one class of sinners because if we say we have no sins we deceive ourselves and the truth is not in us”.

So it involves purification of sins of pride and arrogance, the kind of sins that ruin respect for the dignity of others.  It involves the purification of sins of covertness – the sin that ruins economies, the sins of lust that ruin marriages, the sin of anger that ruins friendships, the sins of gluttony that ruin health and the sins of sloth that ruins careers.

On the 8 December last, I was in the Irish College in Rome.  The occasion was the re-dedication of the College Chapel after major renovation.  The outstanding feature of the renovated chapel is a wonderful painting of Christ – the Good Shepherd – surrounded by Mary, his Mother; St John the beloved disciple; St Patrick; St Brigid; St Columbanus and St Oliver Plunkett.

There is one other person shown there who is neither Irish nor a saint.  He is shown holding the Palm of Martyrdom in his hand.  Fr Ragheed Ganni was a young priest from Iraq who was a past student of the Irish College.  He was shot dead in native Iraq, as he came out after celebrating Holy Mass in May 2007.  During his summer holidays Ragheed, as a young seminarian, worked in Ireland especially in the popular pilgrimage centre of Lough Derg.

Pope Benedict begins his message for today by referring to Iraq – where the persecution and killing continue.  On 31 October last two priests and 50 faithful were killed as they gathered for the celebration of Holy Mass.  Other attacks followed.  People are desperately afraid.  The Holy Father asks us all for our prayers and
our support for these brothers and sisters and the faith of those who are victims of violence and intolerance.

The Holy Father goes on to take that outrage as the starting point for his reflection on religious freedom as the path to peace which is the topic of his message for the World Day of Peace.

Pope Benedict reminds us that in some areas of the world it is impossible to profess one’s religion freely except at the risk of life and personal freedom.  He is thinking of certain countries in Asia and Africa and, of course the Middle East.  But there are other places where there are more subtle forms of prejudice and hostility towards those who believe in religion and who wish to adopt religious symbols. One thing is certain however, Christians are the religious group which suffers most from persecution on account of its faith.  This situation is unacceptable.  The denial of religious freedom represents an insult to God.  It is also an insult to the dignity of the human person.  It is a threat to security and peace in the world.

Why is the denial of religious freedom not only an insult to God but also an insult to your dignity and my dignity?  Religious freedom is the freedom to direct our life to God.  To deny or to restrict that freedom is to create a society that is fundamentally unjust.  It is unjust because it fails to take account of the true nature of the human person.  Where this takes place the lasting peace of the whole human family is stifled and threatened.

For this reason Pope Benedict implores all men and women of goodwill to build a world where all are free to profess their religion or faith, or not to profess a faith or religion as the case may be.  We are all obliged to respect the right of others.  We have duties to others – besides ourselves and our families.  We have to have
consideration for the good of others.

Peace is a gift of God – but it is also a task for all of us.  It is a process in which people are set free; free from fear, freed from poverty, free from prejudice, free from ignorance, free from hatred. It is a process in which the human dignity of every human person, whatever their race, religion or politics, is respected.  That dignity is respected because every human being is made in the likeness of God – truly a source of amazement and wonder as the face of every new-born
baby proves.

It was Pope Paul VI who, many years ago, said that “It is necessary before all else to provide peace with other weapons different from those destined to kill and exterminate”.

That is why it is so sad to hear reports recently of people being again recruited and trained to carry and use weapons of death and destruction against fellow human beings on this island.  Where is the respect there?  Violence is not overcome by violence.  The other weapons needed are the strength and power to give the world a new direction and spirit so as to overcome the mistakes of the past.  Only the deepest and best qualities of the human personality can change the world and make it a better place.  It is precisely because peace brings to fruition those qualities that it gives hope for a future of justice, even in the face of great injustice and poverty.

So, the real peacemakers are all those – whether parents, teachers, community workers, – who develop the gifts and talents especially of young people and channel them into building a better world.  Today is a day on which to thank God for those parents who know the importance of family.  The family is the primary training ground for peaceful and harmonious relations at every level of co-existence.

Because this is so, they do their best to prepare their children to be responsible.  They know that the family is the first school and often they themselves are the best educators of their children. Consequently, these parents try to be examples, good examples, to their children in the search for truth and the love of God.  In the family, children learn respect for the dignity and worth and value of every human being if they themselves are shown respect and love and affection.

The Holy Father reminds us today that parents must always be free to hand on to their children their faith and their values.  Not only must they be free to do so, they must he helped and encouraged to do so by the rest of society.  This is the way to build up a strong and caring social fabric which is so important.

Today we wish each other, with great sincerity, a Happy New Year. Surely one of the essential parts of that happiness is peace – peace in mind, peace of heart, peace in our homes, peace in our families, peace with our neighbours, peace with our Creator.  The basis of that peace has to be that we recognise the values and the worth of harmony within our family and with our God – a harmony built on treating others fairly and justly, seeing that they are different.

May your efforts to build peace in 2011 be inspired by the Prince of Peace.  May you strive to bring His compassionate love and forgiveness wherever you go and eventually true peace will flourish there.