Can I walk the path of peace?
‘Is it possible to walk the path of peace? Can we get out of this spiral of sorrow and death? Can we learn once again to walk and live in the ways of peace?’ Pope Francis September 7th 2013
The escalating crisis in Syria has the attention of the whole world. The human rights abuses perpetrated inside of that country, particularly the use of chemical weapons have been headline news for weeks now. In response questions about international interventions, particularly the use of force and about the nature of procuring peace are again uppermost (at least in the media’s sight).
Yet Syria is only one of many countries with human rights abuses. Wherever we look on our own continent, we see refugees and asylum seekers, we hear horrific tales of abuses by those with power against the powerless. My 7 year old came home from school telling me of another child in her class who walked to South Africa with his mother after he watched his grandmother being shot by the army. She wanted to know why someone would shoot a grandmother? Just as she wants to know why there are pictures on the TV that look like dozens of children sleeping on the ground? With the piercing insight of a child she knows that these deaths are the same, not different, they are the same because they are wrong. Sending in bombs or armed forces will not make them right. It might prevent more violence, it might escalate the violence. So what can we do?
In the much quoted opening lines of Gaudium Et Spes, the church teaches that ‘, the grief and anguish of the people of our time, especially of those who are poor or afflicted, are, the grief and anguish of the followers of Christ as well’. As Christians we are challenged to be in solidarity with the people of Syria (even though the majority of them are not Christians because we called to be in solidarity with all peoples). It is in this spirit of solidarity that Pope Francis has called on the whole church to join him in prayer and fasting for peace in the Syria.
If we actually do pray and fast, if we take this call seriously, we open ourselves up to being deeply affected by what is happening in our world. We open ourselves up to the reality of evil that is at the root of war. The speed with which Syria has deteriorated reminds me of the speed with which the civil war in Rwanda escalated. For many years these countries looked stable. However clearly hovering beneath the surface there were profound chasms between people, which when ignited took on a terrifying life of their own.
We too live in a divided society, with a growing chasm between wealth and poverty. If I take seriously the Pope’s call to pray and fast for Syria, I also open myself to thinking more critically about peace in my own country. What are the deep seated divides and prejudices that I take for granted? What divides the people I know from one another?