THE POPE has sent his usual New Year's message to the "Leaders of the Nations and the Heads of the International Organizations, as well as all my brothers and sisters throughout the world who have at heart the cause of peace."
Let us hope most frevently that this World Day of Peace will be taken with seriousness by all those who have the power to influence events.
The Pope makes the point that peace is built up and consolidated at all levels of human association and puts down its roots in the freedom and openness of consciences to truth. But what, as Pilate asked, is truth?
Conscience has often been called by eminent Catholic theologians the ultimate criterion of truth in the natural order. The Church, since the Vatican Council, respects total freedom of conscience though, before the Council, the old saying "error has no rights" was still in vogue.
What we have learned, hower –, is that people in what we would call "error" have got rights and that such rights must be respected in all circumstances.
The Pope makes religious 'reflom a particular condition for the safeguarding of peace. Communism remains the principal enemy and the Pope reiterates the sentiments of his predecessors in condemning any State which claims to be superior to the individual conscience in matters of religious belief.
Fortunately he also declares that any State which grants a special jurisdiction to a particular religion has the duty "to ensure that the right to freedom of conscience is legally recognised and effectively respected for all citizens and also for foreigners living in the country even temporarily for reasons of employment and the like."
This puts a heavy burden on Catholic countries, especially those in Latin America, where social justice and sometimes, even, freedom of religion have suffered as a result of the established state of affairs. In this regard, however, matters are currently improving greatly.
There are nevertheless still many fascist-type countries in the world and many countries, particularly in the world of Islam, where freedom of religion is treated with contempt. There is no specific mention of such countries, in the Pope's message, and this is understandable. But we need not forget that the concept of the "holy war" is at present one of the scourges of the world.
Above all, peace, to be throughly trite, begins at home. The very fact that this saying is so trite makes it all the more easily forgotten in our "sophisticated" world. The recent nuclear treaty signed in Washington does nothing to help individuals, as such, to get on any better with each other.
This is where the peace message, indirectly, hits the ordinary Christian. Is he or she willing to forgive the slights and terrible injuries possibly received at the hands of others? Are the religious orders willing to make peace a more potent objective than power? It sounds like an invidious question but it is nevertheless clear, knowing as we do the vagaries of human nature, that "politics" are not absent even in the realms of Church administration at the top levels.