With the church at a crossroads, Catholics look to Pope Francis for guidance. Marie Dennis calls the new pope to be a leader for peace in our world.
In his resignation statement, Benedict XVI, now the bishop emeritus of Rome, pointed to the great challenge these times present to the papal ministry, speaking in particular about “today’s world, subject to so many rapid changes and shaken by questions of deep relevance for the life of faith.” Few challenges will be greater for Pope Francis than the challenge of peace—to turn the hearts, minds, and energies of 1 billion Catholics around the world to fulfilling Jesus’ resurrection promise, “Peace I leave with you.”
Exactly 50 years ago, Pope John XXIII’s great encyclical Pacem in Terris (Peace on Earth) ended with a prayer that Christ would “inflame the desires of all … to break through the barriers which divide them, to strengthen the bonds of mutual love, to learn to understand one another, and to pardon those who have done them wrong.”
Those words, heard in the intensely interconnected and violent world of the 21st century, suggest that the work of making peace at an interpersonal, national, and international level is essential to the life of a follower of Jesus.
To make the Catholic Church a peace church could be the great work for the pontiff—to deepen and make more visible (especially to Catholics around the world) the church’s prophetic work for all that leads to deep, just, and inclusive peace, including social and economic justice and respect for the integrity of creation.
My hope is that Pope Francis will engage the spectacular diversity of our world in respectful dialogue and cooperation, and reject orchestrated fear, enemy making, and all forms of religious extremism.
He will teach peace unceasingly; insist that the principles of a just war be rigorously applied to avoid war and never used to justify war; and move the church—both the institution and people of God—to a consistent commitment to nonviolence. He will study carefully and demonstrate publicly the evils of war and unrelenting preparations for war. He will mourn with survivors of violence and make constantly visible the ways in which war destroys human life and the global community.
He will promote cultures of peace in a world that is unrelentingly violent. He will commit the church to helping Catholics learn how to make peace in our daily lives, our work, our relationships, our communities, and our politics. And he will urge local Catholic communities and church leadership to support those who risk life or livelihood in the name of peace to honor the witness of courageous peacemakers in every corner of the world.
This essay is part of a collection of experts’ advice to the new pope. To read more on how Pope Francis might address some of the pressing issues in today’s church, click here.
This article appeared in the May 2013 issue of U.S. Catholic (Vol. 78, No. 5, page 19).
Image: Photo courtesy of Marie Dennis