by Mairead Corrigan-McGuire
Presentation at the Fondazione Patrizio Paoletti and Comune of Assisi 23rd November 2014
I would like to thank the Fondazione Patrizio Paoletti and the Commune of Assisi for their kind invitation to be with you all.
It is a particular joy for my husband Jackie and myself, to be here in Assisi in the home of St. Francis and St. Clare, two great spirits, whose lives have inspired us, and millions of people around the world. St. Francis, a man of peace, and St. Clare, a woman of prayer, whose message of Love, compassion, care for humans, animals, and the environment, comes down through history to speak to us in a very relevant and inspirational way.
As we the human family today in the 2lst century, face increasing violence, we are challenged to admit, we are on the wrong path, and we need to find new ways of thinking, and doing things from a global perspective. We need urgently to move from our path of violence and destruction to a path of nonkilling, nonviolence and peacebuilding through disarmament.
Peace is a beautiful gift to have in life, and it is particularly treasured by those who have known violent conflict, war, famine, disease, poverty. I believe Peace is a basic human right for every individual and all people. War is a negation and deprivation of all human rights, for life, property, liberty, and should be abolished. Peace is possible and there are steps to peace, both inner and outer, which we can all take. However, if we don’t believe in peace, have a passion for peace, and work for peace, then how is the vision of Peace to be realized?
Love for others and respect for their rights and their human dignity, irrespective of who or what they are, no matter what religion, or none, they choose to follow, will bring about real change, and set in motion proper relationships. With such relationships built on equality, nonkilling and trust, we can work together on so many of the threats to our common humanity.
Poverty is one such threat and Pope Francis challenges us to take care of the poor, and declared his desire that the Catholic Church be a church of the poor and for the poor. To meet this challenge we can each ask ourselves ‘how will what I do today help the poor’?.
Pope Francis also has spoken about the need to build Fraternity amongst the Nations. I believe this is important as building trust amongst people and countries will help bring peace to our inter-dependent, inter-connected world. The virus of Ebola, which is bringing so much death and suffering to the people of West Africa, shows us how much we all need to work together to solve threats to humanity, such as disease, climate change, competition over resources, marginalization of the majority of the world, violence, global militarisation and war.
In confronting these threats and challenges to us all, we recognize no one person, no one country can deal alone with these problems, and as we each take Global Responsibility we are more able to deal together with these threats to humanity. We can also take hope from the fact there is a new consciousness growing that each human life is sacred, that all life and our environment needs to be protected and as science takes us beyond our wildest imagination into outer space, there is no limit to what we can achieve together. As science and reason, and wisdom, open up new possibilities and change we must do all we can to help make such advances through education available to everyone, and using the new digital technology to connect and build a peaceful world.
However, I believe that a block to a peaceful, a beautiful world, based on Love, Human Rights and International Law, is violence. We are seeing increasing violence where the human being, animals, the environment are being abused, tortured, destroyed both by State and non-state actions and policies.
We are being so daily culturally conditioned to accept violence as a way of life that we are in danger of losing our common humanity. Violence starts in our minds and if we are to change then this is where we must begin. Whilst science and reason have given us many good things, in medicine, technology, etc., they have also given us nuclear weapons, and the ability to kill each other with armed drones, etc. show much we need to deepen our wisdom, compassion, love, in order to reject the military mind-sets which our cultures are feeding us every day through mass media, war propaganda, etc.,
It is important to change many of our government policies, end militarism in all our countries, and build new institutions and structures, and I believe it is a peaceful spiritual/political revolution which will help turn us away from the road of militarism and war and onto a path of peace and nonviolence.
Violence begets violence as we witness every day on our television screens, so the choice between violence and nonviolence, is up to each one of us. However, if we in our education system, in our religious institutions, do not teach nonviolence, how can we make that choice? I believe that all faith traditions and secular societies need to work together and teach the way of nonviolence as a way of living, also as a Political science and means of bringing about social and political change wherever we live. A grave responsibility lies with the different Religious traditions to give Spiritual guidance and a clear message particularly on the questions of economic injustice, ‘armed resistance ‘ arms, militarism and war. As a Christian living in a violent ethnic political conflict in Northern Ireland, and caught between the violence of the British army and Irish republican army, I was forced to confront myself with the question, do you ever kill? and is there such a thing as a just war? During my spiritual journey I came to the absolute conviction that killing is wrong, and the just war theory is, in the words of the late Fr. John L. McKenzie, ‘a phony piece of morality’. I became a pacifist because I believe every human life is sacred and we have no right to kill each other. Also I believe Jesus was a pacifist and when we deepen our love and compassion for all our brothers and sisters, it is not possible to torture or kill anyone, no matter who they are or what they do. I agree with Fr. McKenzie when he writes ‘if we cannot know from the New Testament that Jesus rejected violence absolutely, then we can know nothing of Jesus’ person or message. It is the clearest of themes’. Sadly for 1,700 Christian mainline churches have not believed taught or lived Jesus’s simple message, love your enemies, do not kill. For the first three hundred years after Christ the early Christian communities lived in total commitment to Jesus’ nonviolence. Sadly during the last seventeen hundred years Christians have moved so far away from the Christic life of nonviolence that we find ourselves in the terrible dilemma of condemning one kind of homicide and violence whilst paying for, actively participating in or supporting homicidal violence and war on a magnitude far greater than what we condemn in others. There is indeed a longstanding defeat in our theology. To help us out of this dilemma, we need to hear the full gospel message from our Christian leaders. We need to reject the ‘just war’ theology and develop a theology in keeping with Jesus’ nonviolence. Some Christians believe that the ‘just war’ theory can be applied and they can use violence, i.e., ‘armed struggle/armed resistance’ or by Governments to justify ongoing war, and it is precisely because of this ‘bad’ theology that we need from our Spiritual/Religious Leaders, a clear message and an unambiguous proclamation that violence is not the way of Jesus, violence is not the way of Christianity, and that armaments, nuclear weapons, militarism and war must be abolished and replaced with a more human and moral way of solving our problems without killing each other.
Since 9/ll the ‘war on terror’ by US/Nato forces continue to cause death and destruction, as Syria has become at least the 14th country in the Islamic world that US/Nato forces have invaded or occupied or bombed. I visited Syria with an international peace delegation both in 2013 and 2014 at the invitation of Patriarch Gregorios Latham and the Grand Mufti Dr.Ahmad Badr al Din Hassoun. We heard the appeals of all the Religious leaders and many Syrians for no outside intervention and for the Syrian people to be allowed to solve their own problems, through the path of peace and reconciliation.We listened to the stories of Syrian people whose country has been invaded by thousands of foreign fighters, paid, trained by outside Governments to fight a proxy war in Syria in order to bring down President Assad and Syrian government. Also in an illegal attempt at regime change the funding of so called ‘moderate fighters’ by countries such as UK, USA,and some of their gulf allies goes on today, and we the international community have a responsibility to demand the end of such illegal actions. It is to the great credit of the Syrian Religious Leaders, from all faiths, and also members of the Secular community, that their efforts of peace and reconciliation saved their country from a similar fate as Afghanistan, Iraq, Libya, and the ongoing wars by USA/Nato forces. (I believe Nato should be abolished and this should have been done when the Warsaw pact was abolished. Also the current increased militarization of Europe led by US/Nato risk a new cold war between East and West, and is against the wishes of the vast majority of people in Europe who recognize it is in all our interests to co-operate instead of confront, so we can all have better lives and above all survival).
The Religious/Spiritual Leaders from all faith traditions, and none, could raise their united voices against outside military intervention in these countries, and unite to denounce all forms of violence, religious fundamentalism, sectarianism, and to call for end to militarism and war. Religious/spiritual leaders meeting together in friendship and equality and calling for dialogue and reconciliation, can set an example to the Worlds Political Leaders, to end the politics and language of enmity, violence, threats and preparations for war.
As the world celebrated the falling of the Berlin Wall and the ‘cold war ‘it is important that World leaders such as President Putin, President Obama, join together to take bold steps to end militarism and war, which are our real eneies. Because people and countries have different perspectives, different politics and policies, does not mean they must become enemies and risk arousing the very dangerous emotions of fear and aggression, which can lead to violent conflict and war.
People of the world are tired of war, they want peace, and the money put into weapons and war diverted to meeting human needs and especially poverty. We live in a rich world but until our governments listen to the voices of the worlds people and Religious/Spiritual Leaders and change their policies, we cannot deal with all the threats we face as the human family.
For those elite who believe that military power is the controlling force off history, let us the people of the world unite to abolish armies and militaries in every country, and show that peaceful resolution to problems through disarmament and nonviolence is the controlling force of history. Let us join together to take the world onto a different path of peace through disarmament and give hope to humanity.
Mrs. Corrigan-McGuire’s book ‘The Vision of Peace: Faith and Hope in Northern Ireland’ has been published in Urdu and is now used in some Pakistani Universities on Peace Studies. ‘The Vision of Peace’ (edited by John Dear) is available from www.wipfandstock.com
Published with the author’s permission.
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