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Mercy is the foundation of peace

It is 50 years since the closing of the Second Vatican Council and it is fitting to remember the landmark encyclical penned by Pope Paul VI, The Progress of Peoples (Populorum Progressio) two years later. Pope Paul wrote the immortal words, “Development, the new name for peace.”

Today, these words have an even deeper implication than when they were written, as in the interim the world has never enjoyed peace, because development in so many countries never happened. Instead, they got human oppression.

Contemporary disputes are intricately related with the scramble for resources, especially water. Blind, predatory exploitation has even triggered an energy crisis. The vicious cycle has led to murder, starvation and robbery of livelihood.

It is a good time to remember the late pope’s caution that a sustainable development is the new name for lasting peace.

Today, the United Nations Climate Change Conference, which concluded in Paris last month, saw the long-term efforts of delegates from around the world reach a precious consensus and the final global pact deserves our support.

But a more profound approach does not lie simply in pledging technology to keeping global warming below 1.5 degrees Celsius. The higher aim is the conversion of human hearts to collaboration among human beings, the earth and nature.

Without a change in our mentality, pressurising countries to comply may instead become coercion imposed by the strong over the weak.

In Praise Be: On care for our common home (Laudato Si’), Pope Francis calls the preservation of the earth a prerequisite for world peace.

But in endeavouring to protect the earth, we must not forget that the problems of the world cannot be separated from hatred among races and cultures. The terror attacks in Paris are typical. To address such brutal slaughter among human beings, it is essential to find a means of resolving historic enmity, which gives rise to another peace theme: forgiveness; otherwise all peace initiatives will be in vain.

In his announcement of the Extraordinary Year of Mercy, Pope Francis points to the importance of forgiveness, but he has not underestimated the difficulty of forgiveness.

He writes, “At times how hard it seems to forgive! And yet pardon is the instrument placed into our fragile hands to attain serenity of heart. To let go of anger, wrath, violence and revenge are necessary conditions to living joyfully” (Misericordiae Vultus [Face of the Father’s Mercy] 9).

Perhaps, like his predecessors, Pope Francis will be scorned, as he has little power over politics. However, he points out, “There is an aspect of mercy that goes beyond the confines of the Church. It relates us to Judaism and Islam, both of which consider mercy to be one of God’s most important attributes… Among the privileged names that Islam attributes to the Creator are Merciful and Kind. This invocation is often on the lips of faithful Muslims who feel themselves accompanied and sustained by mercy in their daily weakness” (ibid, 23).

This heartfelt appeal can be more powerful than any weapon in resolving the crisis of conflicts.

On this World Peace Day in the Year of Mercy, let us ponder a resolution to the critical problems of human society, our immediate responsibility. SE