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Pope Francis lights a candle at the Hiroshima Peace Memorial in Japan Pope Francis lights a candle at the Hiroshima Peace Memorial in Japan  (Vatican Media)

Hope at the heart of Pope Francis’ World Day of Peace Messages

The first day of the new year, 1 January 2020, is the Feast of Mary, Mother of God. It is also the 53rd World Day of Peace: an opportunity to review Pope Francis’ messages for this annual celebration, from 2014 to 2020.

By Vatican News

If there is one common theme running through all of Pope Francis’ World Day of Peace messages, it is Christian hope.

While addressing the challenges facing the modern world, and offering concrete solutions to the same, the Pope’s messages always end up focusing on the face of Jesus, as the source of our hope and inspiration for peaceful coexistence. 

2014: Fraternity, the Foundation and Pathway to Peace

Pope Francis’ first World Day of Peace message was published in 2014. He addresses it “to everyone, individuals and peoples, wishing them “a life filled with joy and hope”.

The keyword of his message is “fraternity”, which the Pope calls “an essential human quality, for we are relational beings”. Without fraternity, he continues, “it is impossible to build a just society and a solid and lasting peace”.

“The family is the wellspring of all fraternity”, writes Pope Francis. “It is the foundation and the first pathway to peace, since, by its vocation, it is meant to spread its love to the world around it”.

The Pope describes how modern communications make us “powerfully aware of the unity and common destiny of nations”. He speaks of our “vocation to form a community composed of brothers and sisters who accept and care for one another”, but notes how “this vocation is still frequently denied and ignored in a world marked by a ‘globalization of indifference’”.

“The basis of fraternity is found in God’s fatherhood”, writes Pope Francis. “In God’s family, where all are sons and daughters of the same Father, there are no ‘disposable lives’. Fraternity, he concludes, “generates social peace because it creates a balance between freedom and justice, between personal responsibility and solidarity, between the good of individuals and the common good”. 

2015: No Longer Slaves, but Brothers and Sisters

In his message for the 2015 World Day of Peace, Pope Francis dwells on “the scourge of man’s exploitation by man”, that destroys fraternity and the common good.

Under a heading entitled “The many faces of slavery”, the Pope decries how “millions of people today are deprived of freedom and are forced to live in conditions akin to slavery”, despite the international community adopting numerous agreements to the contrary.

Pope Francis reflects on the different categories of people affected by modern slavery: laborers, migrants, “persons forced into prostitution or sold for arranged marriages”, trafficked women and men, or those recruited as soldiers, “minors and adults alike”.

The Pope analyses some of the causes of slavery, concluding that “today, as in the past, slavery is rooted in a notion of the human person which allows him or her to be treated as an object. Whenever sin corrupts the human heart and distances us from our Creator and our neighbours, the latter are no longer regarded as beings of equal dignity, as brothers or sisters sharing a common humanity… They are treated as means to an end”.

Finally, Pope Francis appeals to all men and women of good will, “not to become accomplices to this evil”. Instead, he concludes, “may we have the courage to touch the suffering flesh of Christ, revealed in the faces of those countless persons whom he calls ‘the least of these my brethren’”.

2016: Overcome Indifference and Win Peace

Pope Francis' message for the 2016 World Day of Peace is an invitation to overcome various forms of indifference. Recognizing the conflicts and crises that constitute a “real third world war fought piecemeal”, the Pope invites everyone “not to lose hope in our human ability to conquer evil and to combat resignation and indifference”.

The Pope identifies different kinds of indifference, starting with that towards God, “which then leads to indifference to one’s neighbor and to the environment”. Indifference and lack of commitment, he continues, “constitute a grave dereliction of the duty whereby each of us must work in accordance with our abilities and our role in society for the promotion of the common good and in particular for peace, which is one of humanity’s most precious goods”.

As an antidote to indifference, Pope Francis proposes building a culture of solidarity, mercy and compassion. This requires a “conversion of hearts”, he adds. “The grace of God has to turn our hearts of stone into hearts of flesh, open to others in authentic solidarity”. Peace, writes the Pope, is the fruit of such a culture.

2016 was also the Extraordinary Jubilee Year of Mercy. In the spirit of that year, Pope Francis concludes with an invitation “to realize how indifference can manifest itself in our lives and to work concretely to improve the world around us, beginning with our families, neighbors and places of employment”.

2017: Nonviolence: a Style of Politics for Peace

The Pope’s message for the 50th World Day of Peace in 2017, focuses on making “active nonviolence our way of life”. “When victims of violence are able to resist the temptation to retaliate, they become the most credible promotors of nonviolent peacemaking”, he writes.

Pope Francis examines difference cases of “piecemeal” violence in the world, and the great suffering they cause. “Violence is not the cure for our broken world”, he concludes.  Instead, the Pope offers the examples of Saint Mother Teresa of Calcutta, Mahatma Gandhi, and Dr Martin Luther King.

Jesus Himself offers a “manual” for this strategy of peacemaking in the Sermon on the Mount, continues Pope Francis. “The eight Beatitudes provide a portrait of the person we could describe as blessed, good and authentic. Blessed are the meek, Jesus tells us, the merciful and the peacemakers, those who are pure in heart, and those who hunger and thirst for justice”.

“Active nonviolence is a way of showing that unity is truly more powerful and more fruitful than conflict”, concludes the Pope. “May we dedicate ourselves prayerfully and actively to banishing violence from our hearts, words and deeds, to becoming nonviolent people, and to building nonviolent communities that care for our common home”.

2018: Migrants and Refugees: Men and Women in Search of Peace

Pope Francis dedicates his 2018 World Day of Peace Message to all those who “are willing to risk their lives on a journey that is long and perilous, to endure hardships and sufferings”, in order to find “somewhere to live in peace”.

“In a spirit of compassion”, the Pope asks us to “embrace all those fleeing from war and hunger, or forced by discrimination, persecution, poverty and environmental degradation to leave their homelands”.

Pope Francis suggests a strategy combining four actions we can offer “asylum seekers, refugees, migrants and victims of human trafficking, in order to give them an opportunity to find the peace they seek”. These actions are: “welcoming, protecting, promoting and integrating”.

“Welcoming” means “expanding legal pathways for entry” and “balancing our concerns about national security with concern for fundamental human rights”.

“Protecting” has to do with “our duty to recognize and defend” the dignity of those seeking asylum and security, and “to prevent their being exploited”.

“Promoting” entails “supporting the integral human development of migrants and refugees”, enabling them “to cultivate and realize their potential”.

“Integrating”, concludes Pope Francis, means “allowing refugees and migrants to participate fully in the life of the society that welcomes them, as part of a process of mutual enrichment and fruitful cooperation”.

2019: Good Politics is at the Service of Peace

Pope Francis’ message for the 2019 World Day of Peace opens with a challenge to those who hold “political office and political responsibility”: “If exercised with basic respect for the life, freedom and dignity of persons, political life can indeed become an outstanding form of charity”, he writes.

Good politics “respects and promotes fundamental human rights, which are at the same time mutual obligations, enabling a bond of trust and gratitude to be forged between present and future generations”.

Pope Francis balances these political virtues by listing their corresponding vices. These include, among others, corruption, justification of power, “xenophobia, racism and the plundering of natural resources”. All of them, writes the Pope, “undermine the ideal of an authentic democracy, bring disgrace to public life and threaten social harmony”.

Peace, confirms Pope Francis, “is the fruit of a great political project grounded in the mutual responsibility and interdependence of human beings. But it is also a challenge that demands to be taken up ever anew. It entails a conversion of heart and soul”.

This conversion is both interior and communal, concludes the Pope. It has three inseparable aspects: peace with oneself, peace with others, and peace with all creation, “rediscovering the grandeur of God’s gift and our individual and shared responsibility as inhabitants of this world, citizens and builders of the future”.

2020: Peace as a Journey of Hope: Dialogue, Reconciliation and Ecological Conversion

“Hope” is again at the heart of Pope Francis latest World Day of Peace message, which opens with the statement: “Peace is a great and precious value, the object of our hope and the aspiration of the entire human family”. Hope, writes the Pope, is “the virtue that inspires us and keeps us moving forward, even when obstacles seem insurmountable”.

Pope Francis acknowledges how “the terrible trials of internal and international conflicts, often aggravated by ruthless acts of violence, have an enduring effect on the body and soul of humanity”. “Mistrust and fear weaken relationships and increase the risk of violence, creating a vicious circle that can never lead to a relationship of peace”.

On the other hand, writes Pope Francis, “Peace emerges from the depths of the human heart and political will must always be renewed, so that new ways can be found to reconcile and unite individuals and communities”. That journey of reconciliation “calls for patience and trust”, says the Pope. “Peace will not be obtained unless it is hoped for”.

The world does not need empty words, continues Pope Francis, “but convinced witnesses, peacemakers who are open to a dialogue that rejects exclusion or manipulation”. Peace is a process that requires enduring commitment, he adds. “It is a patient effort to seek truth and justice, to honor the memory of victims and to open the way, step by step, to a shared hope stronger than the desire for vengeance”.

Finally, Pope Francis refers to the recent Synod on the Pan-Amazon Region. “Faced with the consequences of our hostility towards others, our lack of respect for our common home or our abusive exploitation of natural resources, we are in need of an ecological conversion”, he writes, one that will “lead us to a new way of looking at life”.

The Pope concludes with a renewed call “for a peaceful relationship between communities and the land, between present and past, between experience…and hope”.

01 January 2020, 08:10