Archbishop Jason Gordon’s New Year Message
TAKING THE PATH TO PEACE
As we begin this New Year, I share, fellow citizens, your deep longing for peace. If peace is to break out in T&T in 2018, however, we will need to take some particular steps to achieve it. Peace cannot be enforced by guns or armies. These may bring about a ceasefire. But that is not peace.
To work for peace is to work for development – the development of each person and every dimension of the human person. This, the Catholic tradition calls authentic Integral Human Development. Pope Paul VI says this form of development is the “vocation” of the Church, by which God calls the Church to build a civilization of peace.
Here, I wish to outline some steps in the pilgrimage to peace.
Forgive: Saint John Paul II in his message for World Day of Peace 2002 said: “No peace without Justice, no Justice without forgiveness.” So, this is where we begin: Will you forgive? Where is there unforgiveness in your life? Make a list of people against whom you hold resentment or anger and decide to forgive them. I know this is very challenging. But I also know until we do this work, individually and collectively, we do not have a path to peace.
Do Justice: While doing the forgiveness work, let us look really honestly at ourselves and ask if there are areas of injustice in which we participate. Calumny and detraction is injustice. Not working a full day is injustice, as is refusing to pay a just wage. Stealing from the workplace is injustice. Giving or taking a bribe is injustice. Violence is injustice. In many other ways we participate in injustice. Let us ask God to enlighten us to recognize both the people we need to forgive and the ways we participate in injustice.
Commit to non-violence: This is the third area I propose we work on, if we really want peace. “Non-violence is the personal practice of being harmless to self and others under every condition. It comes from the belief that hurting people, animals or the environment is unnecessary to achieve an outcome and refers to a general philosophy of abstention from violence. This may be based on moral, religious or spiritual principles, or it may be for purely strategic or pragmatic reasons” (Wikipedia on Mohandas Ghandi).
The violence on our streets and in our homes and places of work are all interconnected. If we want peace we need a commitment to non-violence. Hate speech, whether in our homes, on our radio stations, in our workplaces and on our streets, is fuelling the violence in our society. If each of us makes a commitment to non-violence, then together we bring down the level and tone of violence in our country, individually and collectively. Every commitment to non-violence brings gifts to others. Look at nonviolencett.org and take the pledge. Non-violence begins with ‘me’.
Help the poor: It may seem an unlikely element in our pilgrimage to peace, but this fourth element is the path to the authentic development of our country. As long as there are pockets of poverty, where children are prevented from fulfilling their potential and stigmatized because of their place of birth, we will have violence. The measure of a great nation is how we assist the poor. Yes, we begin with basic needs — food, clothing, shelter. But we also attend to the higher needs, education, moral formation and all that is required for our children and young people to realize their potential. This is not aid: this is a call to love the other as we love ourselves (cf. Luke 10:27), wanting for each citizen what we want for our children and grandchildren and ourselves.
Welcome, protect, promote and integrate the migrant and refugee: Here we shift from justice to mercy. Pope Francis, in his Message for World Day of Peace 2018, focuses on the migrant and the refugee. There are approximately 250 million migrants in the world; some 22.5 million of these are refugees. We have over 2000 refugees in Trinidad and Tobago today. The number is climbing. If we want to build peace we need to welcome, protect, promote and integrate them into our communities. For Pope Francis, “promoting” the cause of the migrant and refugee means supporting the authentic development of each one. Here, primary care, education, jobs and dignity of living is vital. This last step may seem a big reach, but let us remember that the Holy Family was a refugee family while they lived in Egypt. “Love the stranger for you were once strangers” (Deuteronomy 10:19).
Peace — shalom — is akin to salvation. As Christians we cannot disconnect our work for peace from our commitment to Christ. So let us forgive, do justice, commit to non-violence, help the poor and welcome, protect, promote and integrate the migrant and refugee. If we do this we will build a civilization of justice, peace and mercy. This is the best legacy we can leave for the next generation.
I wish you a happy New Year; I pray that it will be one filled with all the grace necessary to make the pilgrimage to peace.
The Most Rev. Charles Jason Gordon
Archbishop of Port of Spain