by Christopher Howse
THE SURVIVAL of the whole human race is at stake, Pope John Paul warns the world in his Peace Day message for the New Year.
Modern warfare makes the need for peace even more urgent the Pope says in the 20 page message on the theme "Peace, a Gift from God: The danger of war must be taken more seriously than ever because of the characteristics of modern conflicts: "They are world-wide: even a local conflict is often an expression of tensions originating elsewhere in the world. In the same way, it often happens that a conflict has profound effects far from where it broke out. Another characteristic is iota/in': present-day tensions mobilize all the forces of the nations involved; moreover, selfish monopolization and even hostility are to be found today as much in the way economic life is run and in the technological application of science as in the way that the mass media or military resources are utilized. Thirdly, we must stress the radical character of modern conflicts: it is the survival of the whole human race that is at stake in them, given the destructive capacity of present-day military stockpiles."
Pope John Paul finds that the inevitable conclusion from considering possibilities of war or peace is that the fate of the world depends on the choices of individuals: "In the final analysis, when we consider the question of peace, we are led to consider the meaning and conditions of our own personal and community lives." The Pope reasons that since God is the first source of being, the essential truth and the supreme good, peace proceeds from him as its foundation — it is his gift. He puts the desire for peace in the human conscience, and since men are created in his image, he is the guarantor of basic human rights. Some of the ways to seek peace are by improved information. study and exchanges of a cultural, scientific and even economic kind.
While peace is the concern of all, the Pope faces the fact that political leaders are the ones directly responsible for building it.
In a passage clearly applicable to Poland, (though the message was completed on December K. irt the week before the Polish clampdown) the Pope outlines the dependence of peace on justice: "Unconditional and effective respect for each one's imprescriptible and inalienable rights is the necessary condition in order that peace may reign in a society ... In a society in which these rights are not protected, the very idea of universality is dead, as soon as a small group of individuals set up for their own exclusive advantage a principle of discrimination whereby the rights and even the lives of others are made dependent on the whim of the stronger. Such a society cannot be at peace with itself."
Turning particularly to Christian readers, the Pope reminds them that "peace be with you were Christ's first words after the Resurrection. "Those who accept the faith form in the Church a prophetic community: with the Holy Spirit communicated by Christ, after the Baptism that makes them part of the Body of Christ, they experience the peace given by God in the sacrament Of Reconciliation and in Eucharistic communion; they proclaim "the gospel of . peace"(Eph 6:15); they try to live it from day to day. in actual practice; and they long for the time of total reconciliation when, by a new intervention of the living God who raises the dead. we shall be wholly open to 3od and our brothers and sisters. Such is the vision of faith which supports the activity of Christians on behalf of peace."
Peace is a constant challenge to Christians, but they should have no illusions that they can neglect human initiatives in favour of peace. At the same time "Christians know that in this world a totally and permanently peaceful human society is unfortunately a Utopia."
Before concluding, the Pope conjures up an apocalyptic vision of the horrors of nuclear or bacteriological warfare, promoted by an arms race against a background of great need in the Third World. "The nuclear terror that haunts our time can encourage us to enrich our common heritage with a very simple discovery that is avithin our reach, namely that war is the most barbarous and least effective way of resolving conflicts."
The message ends with .a note of optimism and an invitation for Christians to join confidently in prayer to God: "Yes, our future is in the hands of God, who alone gives true peace. And when human hearts sincerely think of work for peace it is still God's grace that inspires and strengthens those thoughts. All people are in this sense invited to echo the sentiments of Saint Francis of Assisi, the eighth centenary of whose birth we are celebrating: Lord, make us instruments of your peace: where there is hatred, let us sow love; where there is injury, pardon; when discord rages, let us build peace."