Why Pope Francis’s World Day of Peace message is such a breakthrough

by Terrence Rynne

The following essay was written by Dr. Terrence Rynne, who was one of the attendees of the April 2016 Nonviolence & Just Peace conference in Rome.

That Pope Francis consciously chose “nonviolence” as the theme of his message to the world on New Year ’s Day 2017, is in itself a powerful fact. The pope unabashedly pointed out that “nonviolence” is what Jesus taught and modeled and said, “To be true followers of Jesus today also includes embracing his teaching about nonviolence.” The pope is signaling a true return to the sources for the Catholic Church: Sacred Scripture and the traditions of the early Church. Just as the return to the sources (ressourcement) by theologians such as Henri de Lubac, Yves Congar and Karl Rahner fueled the renaissance of Catholic theology and the magnificent documents of the Second Vatican Council so also today the pope is returning in a fresh way to the sources.

First, he is reading the Gospels attentively and finds his inspiration there. He says for example: “Jesus himself lived in violent times…But Christ’s message in this regard offers a radically positive approach. He unfailingly preached God’s unconditional love, which welcomes and forgives. He taught his disciples to love their enemies and to turn the other cheek. When he stopped her accusers from stoning the woman caught in adultery and when, on the night before he died, he told Peter to put away his sword, Jesus marked out the path of nonviolence. He walked that path to the very end, to the cross.” Pope Francis is not using natural law theory as the basis of the Church’s teaching on war and violence, he is going straight to the Gospels.

Second, he reflects on the lived tradition of the early Church and how they confronted persecution with courageous nonviolence and how they stunned the world, prompting massive conversions to Christianity.

The third source of inspiration for Pope Francis is the living witness of believing, nonviolent Christians across the world. He says: “Nor can we forget the eventful decade that ended with the fall of Communist regimes in Europe. The Christian communities made their own contribution by their insistent prayer and courageous action. Particularly influential were the ministry and teaching of Saint John Paul II. Reflecting on the events of 1989 in his 1991 encyclical Centesimus Annus, my predecessor highlighted the fact that momentous change in the lives of people, nations and states had come about ‘by means of peaceful protest, using only the weapons of truth and justice.’”…

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Terrence J. Rynne is the author of Jesus Christ, Peacemaker, and founder of the Marquette University Center for Peacemaking.

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