I cannot recall in what subject the class was when the professor asked the simple question, “Is the opposite of war, peace?” At first I thought it must be a trick question, because I was certain the simple and correct answer was, “Yes, of course!” My fellow students held back, giving me pause to think again. Soon enough I was drawn into the complex questions that sought to define peace and even more challenging, map a pathway for peace to exist. At that time students listened very attentively because the Vietnam War was raging and the country was being torn apart by dissent. The year was 1968 and soon enough all of the men graduating would be facing mandatory military service in a war most of us found wrong.
So many years later the questions about peace continue to intrigue me, for I see so little peace all around the world and even in our own neighborhood. It seems to me the fact that peace is elusive in big and small ways, locally, nationally and world-wide, gives testimony to the vibrant presence of evil in the world. For there is nothing that so diminishes and damages the human condition more effectively than violence.
Choosing to think about, study, discuss and work for the cause of peace is surely a most noble endeavor and in many ways is the work everyone is called to carry out. In Charlestown we have a lot of work to do, not just in youth violence, gangs and drug-related violence but in every aspect of neighborhood and family life. I believe it was Dom Helder Camera, an extraordinary figure in Brazil who served as Archbishop of Recife for many years, who once said, “Violence is anything that diminishes the dignity of another.” Think about it; words said and not said, actions and inactions, in so many ways every one of us can be and likely has been violent toward another.
How do we foster peace, authentic and sustainable? It is neither simple nor easy and cannot be done alone. We need each other and together establishing a climate of mutual respect no matter our difference seems a fundamental first step. The hope of the world for peace is the United Nations, albeit a flawed and human institution, but without it our world would be much more dangerous. The International Day of Peace was established in 1981 by the United Nations General Assembly to coincide with its opening session, which was held annually on the third Tuesday of September. The first Peace Day was observed in September 1982. In 2001, the General Assembly by unanimous vote established 21 September as an annual day of non-violence and cease-fire.
In the spirit of the International Day of Peace the clergy of Charlestown invite all residents, of any, every and no faith tradition to join us for a service in which we pray for peace. The event will be held in the Training Field on Winthrop Street, at 7:00 p.m. on September 21. All are invited to come and participate. Please include the children as the world we are praying for is theirs tomorrow.
In the beautiful hymn written from the Prayer for Peace of Saint Francis of Assisi, the refrain begins: “Let there be peace on earth and let it begin with me.” Isn’t that a wonderful prayer for each of us to make every day?
Rev. James J. Ronan
St. Mary-St. Catherine of Siena Parish