“In Truth, Peace” – The First Lesson of Benedict XVI on Peace, War, and TerrorismPOPE BENEDICT XVI
The complete text of Pope Benedict XVI’s message for the 2006 World Day of Peace, to be celebrated January 1.
this traditional message for the World Day of Peace at the beginning of the new
year, I offer cordial greetings and good wishes to men and women everywhere, especially
those who are suffering as a result of violence and armed conflicts. My greeting
is one filled with hope for a more serene world, a world in which more and more
individuals and communities are committed to the paths of justice and peace.
- Before all else, I wish to express my heartfelt gratitude to my predecessors,
the great popes Paul VI and John Paul II, who were astute promoters of peace.
Guided by the spirit of the Beatitudes, they discerned in the many historical
events which marked their respective pontificates the providential intervention
of God, who never ceases to be concerned for the future of the human race. As
tireless heralds of the Gospel, they constantly invited everyone to make God the
starting-point of their efforts on behalf of concord and peace throughout the
world. This, my first message for the World Day of Peace, is meant to follow in
the path of their noble teaching; with it, I wish to reiterate the steadfast resolve
of the Holy See to continue serving the cause of peace. The very name Benedict,
which I chose on the day of my election to the chair of Peter, is a sign of my
personal commitment to peace. In taking this name, I wanted to evoke both the
patron saint of Europe, who inspired a civilization of peace on the whole continent,
and pope Benedict XV, who condemned the first world war as a “useless slaughter”1
and worked for a universal acknowledgment of the lofty demands of peace.
- The theme chosen for this year's reflection – “In truth,
peace’ – expresses the conviction that wherever and whenever men and
women are enlightened by the splendor of truth, they naturally set out on the
path of peace. The pastoral constitution “Gaudium et Spes,” promulgated
forty years ago at the conclusion of the Second Vatican Council, stated that mankind
will not succeed in “building a truly more human world for everyone, everywhere
on earth, unless all people are renewed in spirit and converted to the truth of
peace.”2 But what do those words, “the truth of peace,”
really mean? To respond adequately to this question, we must realize that peace
cannot be reduced to the simple absence of armed conflict, but needs to be understood
as “the fruit of an order which has been planted in human society by its
divine founder,” an order ''which must be brought about by humanity in its
thirst for ever more perfect justice.”3 As the result of an order
planned and willed by the love of God, peace has an intrinsic and invincible truth
of its own, and corresponds “to an irrepressible yearning and hope dwelling
Seen in this way, peace appears as a heavenly gift and a divine grace
which demands at every level the exercise of the highest responsibility: that
of conforming human history – in truth, justice, freedom and love –
to the divine order. Whenever there is a loss of fidelity to the transcendent
order, and a loss of respect for that “grammar” of dialogue which
is the universal moral law written on human hearts,5 whenever the integral
development of the person and the protection of his fundamental rights are hindered
or denied, whenever countless people are forced to endure intolerable injustices
and inequalities, how can we hope that the good of peace will be realized? The
essential elements which make up the truth of that good are missing. Saint Augustine
described peace as “tranquillitas ordinis,”6 the
tranquility of order. By this, he meant a situation which ultimately enables the
truth about man to be fully respected and realized.
Any authentic search for peace must begin
with the realization that the problem of truth and untruth is the concern of every
man and woman; it is decisive for the peaceful future of our planet.
- Who and what,
then, can prevent the coming of peace? Sacred Scripture, in its very first book,
Genesis, points to the lie told at the very beginning of history by the animal
with a forked tongue, whom the evangelist John calls “the father of lies”
(John 8:44). Lying is also one of the sins spoken of in the final chapter of the
last book of the Bible, Revelation, which bars liars from the heavenly Jerusalem:
“Outside are all who love falsehood” (22:15). Lying is linked to the
tragedy of sin and its perverse consequences, which have had, and continue to
have, devastating effects on the lives of individuals and nations. We need but
think of the events of the past century, when aberrant ideological and political
systems willfully twisted the truth and brought about the exploitation and murder
of an appalling number of men and women, wiping out entire families and communities.
After experiences like these, how can we fail to be seriously concerned about
lies in our own time, lies which are the framework for menacing scenarios of death
in many parts of the world. Any authentic search for peace must begin with the
realization that the problem of truth and untruth is the concern of every man
and woman; it is decisive for the peaceful future of our planet.
is an irrepressible yearning present in the heart of each person, regardless of
his or her particular cultural identity. Consequently, everyone should feel committed
to service of this great good, and should strive to prevent any form of untruth
from poisoning relationships. All people are members of one and the same family.
An extreme exaltation of differences clashes with this fundamental truth. We need
to regain an awareness that we share a common destiny which is ultimately transcendent,
so as to maximize our historical and cultural differences, not in opposition to,
but in cooperation with, people belonging to other cultures. These simple truths
are what make peace possible; they are easily understood whenever we listen to
our own hearts with pure intentions. Peace thus comes to be seen in a new light:
not as the mere absence of war, but as a harmonious coexistence of individual
citizens within a society governed by justice, one in which the good is also achieved,
to the extent possible, for each of them.
The truth of peace calls upon everyone to cultivate productive and sincere
relationships; it encourages them to seek out and to follow the paths of forgiveness
and reconciliation, to be transparent in their dealings with others, and to be
faithful to their word. In a particular way, the followers of Christ, recognizing
the insidious presence of evil and the need for that liberation brought by the
divine Master, look to him with confidence, in the knowledge that “he committed
no sin; no guile was found on his lips” (1 Peter 2:22; cf. Isaiah 53:9).
Jesus defined himself as the truth in person, and, in addressing the seer of the
Book of Revelation, he states his complete aversion to “every one who loves
and practices falsehood” (Revelation 22:15). He has disclosed the full truth
about humanity and about human history. The power of his grace makes it possible
to live “in” and “by” truth, since he alone is completely
true and faithful. Jesus is the truth which gives us peace.
The truth of peace calls upon everyone to
cultivate productive and sincere relationships; it encourages them to seek out
and to follow the paths of forgiveness and reconciliation, to be transparent in
their dealings with others, and to be faithful to their word.
truth of peace must also let its beneficial light shine even amid the tragedy
of war. The fathers of the Second Vatican Ecumenical Council, in the pastoral
constitution “Gaudium et Spes,” pointed out that “not
everything automatically becomes permissible between hostile parties once war
has regrettably commenced.”7 As a means of limiting the devastating
consequences of war as much as possible, especially for civilians, the international
community has created an international humanitarian law. In a variety of situations
and in different settings, the Holy See has expressed its support for this humanitarian
law, and has called for it to be respected and promptly implemented, out of the
conviction that the truth of peace exists even in the midst of war. International
humanitarian law ought to be considered as one of the finest and most effective
expressions of the intrinsic demands of the truth of peace. Precisely for this
reason, respect for that law must be considered binding on all peoples. Its value
must be appreciated and its correct application ensured; it must also be brought
up to date by precise norms applicable to the changing scenarios of today's armed
conflicts and the use of ever newer and more sophisticated weapons.
I wish to express gratitude to the international organizations and to all those
who are daily engaged in the application of international humanitarian law. Nor
can I fail to mention the many soldiers engaged in the delicate work of resolving
conflicts and restoring the necessary conditions for peace. I wish to remind them
of the words of the Second Vatican Council: “All those who enter the military
in service to their country should look upon themselves as guardians of the security
and freedom of their fellow-countrymen, and, in carrying out this duty properly,
they too contribute to the establishment of peace.”8 On this
demanding front the Catholic Church's military ordinariates carry out their pastoral
activity: I encourage both the military ordinaries and military chaplains to be,
in every situation and context, faithful heralds of the truth of peace.
Nowadays, the truth of peace
continues to be dramatically compromised and rejected by terrorism, whose criminal
threats and attacks leave the world in a state of fear and insecurity. My predecessors
Paul VI and John Paul II frequently pointed out the awful responsibility borne
by terrorists, while at the same time condemning their senseless and deadly strategies.
These are often the fruit of a tragic and disturbing nihilism which pope John
Paul II described in these words: “Those who kill by acts of terrorism actually
despair of humanity, of life, of the future. In their view, everything is to be
hated and destroyed.”9
Looked at closely, nihilism and the fundamentalism
of which we are speaking share an erroneous relationship to truth: the nihilist
denies the very existence of truth, while the fundamentalist claims to be able
to impose it by force.
Not only nihilism, but also religious
fanaticism, today often labeled fundamentalism, can inspire and encourage terrorist
thinking and activity. From the beginning, John Paul II was aware of the explosive
danger represented by fanatical fundamentalism, and he condemned it unsparingly,
while warning against attempts to impose, rather than to propose for others freely
to accept, one's own convictions about the truth. As he wrote: “To try to
impose on others by violent means what we consider to be the truth is an offense
against the dignity of the human being, and ultimately an offense against God
in whose image he is made.”10
- Looked at closely,
nihilism and the fundamentalism of which we are speaking share an erroneous relationship
to truth: the nihilist denies the very existence of truth, while the fundamentalist
claims to be able to impose it by force. Despite their different origins and cultural
backgrounds, both show a dangerous contempt for human beings and human life, and
ultimately for God himself. Indeed, this shared tragic outcome results from a
distortion of the full truth about God: nihilism denies God's existence and his
provident presence in history, while fanatical fundamentalism disfigures his loving
and merciful countenance, replacing him with idols made in its own image. In analyzing
the causes of the contemporary phenomenon of terrorism, consideration should be
given, not only to its political and social causes, but also to its deeper cultural,
religious and ideological motivations.
- In view of the risks
which humanity is facing in our time, all Catholics in every part of the world
have a duty to proclaim and embody ever more fully the “Gospel of Peace,”
and to show that acknowledgment of the full truth of God is the first, indispensable
condition for consolidating the truth of peace. God is love which saves, a loving
father who wants to see his children look upon one another as brothers and sisters,
working responsibly to place their various talents at the service of the common
good of the human family. God is the unfailing source of the hope which gives
meaning to personal and community life. God, and God alone, brings to fulfillment
every work of good and of peace. History has amply demonstrated that declaring
war on God in order to eradicate him from human hearts only leads a fearful and
impoverished humanity toward decisions which are ultimately futile. This realization
must impel believers in Christ to become convincing witnesses of the God who is
inseparably truth and love, placing themselves at the service of peace in broad
cooperation with other Christians, the followers of other religions and with all
men and women of good will.
- Looking at the present world situation,
we can note with satisfaction certain signs of hope in the work of building peace.
I think, for example, of the decrease in the number of armed conflicts. Here we
are speaking of a few, very tentative steps forward along the path of peace, yet
ones which even now are able to hold out a future of greater serenity, particularly
for the suffering people of Palestine, the land of Jesus, and for those living
in some areas of Africa and Asia, who have waited for years for the positive conclusion
of the ongoing processes of pacification and reconciliation. These are reassuring
signs which need to be confirmed and consolidated by tireless cooperation and
activity, above all on the part of the international community and its agencies
charged with preventing conflicts and providing a peaceful solution to those in
All this must not, however, lead to a naive optimism. It must not be forgotten
that, tragically, violent fratricidal conflicts and devastating wars still continue
to sow tears and death in vast parts of the world. Situations exist where conflict,
hidden like flame beneath ashes, can flare up anew and cause immense destruction.
Those authorities who, rather than making every effort to promote peace, incite
their citizens to hostility towards other nations, bear a heavy burden of responsibility:
in regions particularly at risk, they jeopardize the delicate balance achieved
at the cost of patient negotiations and thus help make the future of humanity
more uncertain and ominous.
Those authorities who, rather than making
every effort to promote peace, incite their citizens to hostility towards other
nations, bear a heavy burden of responsibility: in regions particularly at risk,
they jeopardize the delicate balance achieved at the cost of patient negotiations
and thus help make the future of humanity more uncertain and ominous.
What can be said, too, about those governments
which count on nuclear arms as a means of ensuring the security of their countries?
Along with countless persons of good will, one can state that this point of view
is not only baneful but also completely fallacious. In a nuclear war there would
be no victors, only victims. The truth of peace requires that all – whether
those governments which openly or secretly possess nuclear arms, or those planning
to acquire them – agree to change their course by clear and firm decisions,
and strive for a progressive and concerted nuclear disarmament. The resources
which would be saved could then be employed in projects of development capable
of benefiting all their people, especially the poor.
- In this
regard, one can only note with dismay the evidence of a continuing growth in military
expenditure and the flourishing arms trade, while the political and juridic process
established by the international community for promoting disarmament is bogged
down in general indifference. How can there ever be a future of peace when investments
are still made in the production of arms and in research aimed at developing new
ones? It can only be hoped that the international community will find the wisdom
and courage to take up once more, jointly and with renewed conviction, the process
of disarmament, and thus concretely ensure the right to peace enjoyed by every
individual and every people. By their commitment to safeguarding the good of peace,
the various agencies of the international community will regain the authority
needed to make their initiatives credible and effective.
first to benefit from a decisive choice for disarmament will be the poor countries,
which rightly demand, after having heard so many promises, the concrete implementation
of their right to development. That right was solemnly reaffirmed in the recent
general assembly of the United Nations Organization, which this year celebrated
the sixtieth anniversary of its foundation. The Catholic Church, while confirming
her confidence in this international body, calls for the institutional and operative
renewal which would enable it to respond to the changed needs of the present time,
characterized by the vast phenomenon of globalization. The United Nations Organization
must become a more efficient instrument for promoting the values of justice, solidarity
and peace in the world.
For her part, the Church, in fidelity to the
mission she has received from her Founder, is committed to proclaiming everywhere
“the Gospel of peace.” In the firm conviction that she offers an indispensable
service to all those who strive to promote peace, she reminds everyone that, if
peace is to be authentic and lasting, it must be built on the bedrock of the truth
about God and the truth about man. This truth alone can create a sensitivity to
justice and openness to love and solidarity, while encouraging everyone to work
for a truly free and harmonious human family. The foundations of authentic peace
rest on the truth about God and man.
- At the conclusion of this
message, I would like to address a particular word to all believers in Christ,
inviting them once again to be attentive and generous disciples of the Lord. When
we hear the Gospel, dear brothers and sisters, we learn to build peace on the
truth of a daily life inspired by the commandment of love. Every community should
undertake an extensive process of education and witness aimed at making everyone
more aware of the need for a fuller appreciation of the truth of peace. At the
same time I ask for an increase of prayers, since peace is above all a gift of
God, a gift to be implored incessantly. By God's help, our proclamation and witness
to the truth of peace will be all the more convincing and illuminating. With confidence
and filial abandonment let us lift up our eyes to Mary, mother of the Prince of
Peace. At the beginning of this new year, let us ask her to help all God's people,
wherever they may be, to work for peace and to be guided by the light of the truth
that sets man free (cf. John 8:32). Through Mary's intercession, may all mankind
grow in esteem for this fundamental good and strive to make it ever more present
in our world, and, in this way, to offer a safer and more serene future to generations
yet to come.
From the Vatican, December 8, 2005.
to the heads of the warring peoples, August 1, 1917: AAS 9 (1917), 423.
- Ibid. 78.
- John Paul II, message for the 2004 World Day of
- Cf. John Paul II, address to the fiftieth general assembly
of the United Nations, October 5, 1995, No. 3.
- “De Civitate
Dei,” XIX, 13.
- No. 79.
for the 2002 World Day of Peace, 6.
Pope Benedict XVI. "“In Truth, Peace” – The First Lesson of Benedict
XVI on Peace, War, and Terrorism."
The complete text of Pope
Benedict XVI’s message for the 2006 World Day of Peace, to be celebrated
January 1. Provided by Sandro Magister and Chiesa.com.