Posts Tagged 'peace'

8 Beatitudes of Good Politics: Pope Francis’s World Day of Peace Message

Photo Credit: Aleteia Image Department via flickr

Once again, Pope Francis has issued a challenge to world leaders to live up to their calling, and a scathing rebuke to those who abuse their power, all in the simplest and most familiar of ways.  Pope Francis’s message for the World Day of Peace on January 1, 2019, “Good Politics Is at the Service of Peace,” highlights 8 “beatitudes” of good politics, proposed by Vietnamese Cardinal François-Xavier Nguyễn Vãn Thuận.

First, Pope Francis points out that peace “is like a delicate flower struggling to blossom on the stony ground of violence.”  He then links peacebuilding to good politics.  Good politics, for Francis, involves heeding Jesus’s exhortation that anyone who would be first must be the servant of all. Thus, good political leadership involves service and can be a form of charity:

Politics is an essential means of building human community and institutions. . . Political office and political responsibility thus constantly challenge those called to the service of their country to make every effort to protect those who live there and to create the conditions for a worthy and just future. If exercised with basic respect for the life, freedom and dignity of persons, political life can indeed become an outstanding form of charity.

With this understanding of political leadership as service, he turns to the “Beatitudes of the Politician:”

It may be helpful to recall the “Beatitudes of the Politician,” proposed by Vietnamese Cardinal François-Xavier Nguyễn Vãn Thuận, a faithful witness to the Gospel who died in 2002:

Blessed be the politician with a lofty sense and deep understanding of his role.

Blessed be the politician who personally exemplifies credibility.

Blessed be the politician who works for the common good and not his or her own interest.

Blessed be the politician who remains consistent.

Blessed be the politician who works for unity.

Blessed be the politician who works to accomplish radical change.

Blessed be the politician who is capable of listening.

Blessed be the politician who is without fear.

At the same time that Pope Francis outlines his understanding of good politics in the service of peacebuilding, he doesn’t shrink from naming the forces that work against peace, calling out the behaviors of world leaders who aren’t living up to their calling. Although he doesn’t name names, he names attitudes and behaviors that identify particular leaders:

Sadly, together with its virtues, politics also has its share of vices. . . We think of corruption in its varied forms: the misappropriation of public resources, the exploitation of individuals, the denial of rights, the flouting of community rules, dishonest gain, the justification of power by force or the arbitrary appeal to raison d’état and the refusal to relinquish power. To which we can add xenophobia, racism, lack of concern for the natural environment, the plundering of natural resources for the sake of quick profit and contempt for those forced into exile.

Pope Francis concludes by challenging leaders to protect and include young people in peacebuilding and leadership, and by offering a vision of peace for the world that all can help build:

Peace, in effect, 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; it is both interior and communal; and it has three inseparable aspects:

– peace with oneself, rejecting inflexibility, anger and impatience; in the words of Saint Francis de Sales, showing “a bit of sweetness towards oneself” in order to offer “a bit of sweetness to others”;

– peace with others: family members, friends, strangers, the poor and the suffering, being unafraid to encounter them and listen to what they have to say;

– 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.

As we approach the new year of 2019, let us heed Pope Francis’s words and rise to the challenge of being good leaders and people of peace.



5 Things You Can Do to Become a Soulful Leader for Peace

Photo credit: Margaret Benefiel

In these times of bellicose threats of nuclear war from world leaders, not to mention various wars around the world, how can one work for peace?  What impact can an ordinary person have?  What does soulful leadership for peace look like?

  1. Prayer and reflection. Soulful leadership for peace begins with prayer and reflection. Being spiritually grounded puts the problems of this world in perspective. Furthermore, prayer and reflection help with discernment, answering the question, “What is mine to do?”
  2. Remember. In the words of Gandhi, “Remember that all through history, there have been tyrants and murderers, and for a time, they seem invincible. But in the end, they always fall.  Always.”
  3. Know what’s effective. Political scientist Erica Chenoweth used to believe that violence was more effective against violence than peaceful protests were. Extensive research convinced her otherwise.
  4. Know the facts about military spending. When people tell you that military spending creates jobs, or that the Pentagon needs more funding, know the truth. Did you know, for example, that military spending is less effective in creating jobs than spending on education, health care, or clean energy? Did you know that the Pentagon itself has identified overspending and misuse of funds within its agency? When it conducted an internal study, it identified $125 billion in potential savings over five years. Furthermore, the Pentagon is the only major federal agency that has not passed a full, clean financial audit. We already spend enough on the military.
  5. Take action. Discern what is yours to do and take action. Perhaps you, like Erica Chenoweth, are a researcher who can discover effective strategies for peace and make them known to the world. Perhaps you are a writer who can write letters to the editor of your local newspaper and speak truth to your community.  Perhaps you are an activist who can join local or national demonstrations.  Perhaps you are an ordinary citizen with little time, who can call your Senator or sign online petitions. Perhaps you can make a financial contribution.  Everyone’s contributions, in whatever form, make a difference.

In these times, the world desperately needs spiritually grounded peacemakers.  What is yours to do?




Leadership for Peace

Photo Credit: Bradley Weber via flickr

As I prepare to walk in the footsteps of St. Francis of Assisi in six weeks, I’m immersing myself in his life.  At this time in the life of our world, I’m finding myself drawn to Francis’s peacemaking skills.

St. Francis exercised peace leadership.  In the early thirteenth century, when Pope Innocent III rallied the troops for another Crusade against the Muslims in the Holy Land, Francis was appalled.  The Crusades broke his heart.

As Francis prayed about what part he was called to play, he felt moved to travel to Egypt where the Crusaders’ army found itself at a standoff with Sultan Malik Al Kamil’s army.  In the midst of the conflict, Francis felt called to cross battle lines and meet with the Sultan himself.

Cardinal Pelagius, the commander of the Crusaders’ army, at first refused Francis’s request to meet the Sultan, fearing that Francis would be killed attempting to cross to the other side.  At last he relented, in part because of his calculation that Francis might be better dead than alive, no longer pestering him about making peace, when Pelagius was committed to the path of war.

Miraculously, largely due to the openness of the Sultan, Francis crossed the battle line and survived.  Against the counsel of some of his generals, Sultan Malik Al Kamil agreed to meet Francis, and they had a mutually respectful conversation.  While Francis, not an official representative of Cardinal Pelagius, couldn’t formally respond to the Sultan’s proposal for compromise, Francis spoke of his desire for peace and affirmed the humanity of the Sultan and his people.

Cardinal Pelagius refused Malik Al Kamil’s proposal for compromise and continued his siege of the fortress city of Damietta until its inhabitants had died of starvation or by the sword.  Then he turned his face toward Cairo, ambitious to conquer that city.

Malik Al Kamil opened the sluice gates of the Nile, stranding the Crusaders’ army in the middle of the flood plain.  As the days on the plain stretched into weeks, Pelagius’s army ran out of food and began to starve.  Malik Al Kamil’s generals advised him to take advantage of the Crusaders and kill them while they were weak, just as Pelagius had done with the inhabitants of Damietta.  Instead, Malik Al Kamil retired to pray and returned with a different response.  He fed the Crusaders so they wouldn’t starve.  Shocked that the Sultan’s army brought them bread instead of killing them, the Crusaders began to see Malik Al Kamil and his people as human beings, and lost the will to fight them.  Subsequently, as word spread, Pope Innocent III had more difficulty mustering up an army to fight the Crusade, and the Crusade gradually sputtered out.

Because both Francis and Malik Al Kamil recognized in the other a person of deep faith and a person of peace, a way forward emerged when it had appeared there was no way.

How can the example of St. Francis and Sultan Malik Al Kamil enlighten us? How can their decision to seek peaceful resolutions within a world intent on war inspire us during the conflicts in our current world? Might we resolve to recognize the humanity in those whom we have been taught to view as “enemies” and together contemplate a better path ahead through dialogue and a commitment to work toward peace? The brave determination of the thirteenth-century peacemakers leads me to ask, “What is mine to do?” in the midst of conflict between Christians and Muslims today.


Soulful Leadership in Ukraine

Photo credit: Ray_from_LA, flickr

Photo credit: Ray_from_LA, flickr

While the U.S. government bills the tension between Russia and Ukraine as “big bully annexing small sovereign state,” this view belies the complexity of the situation. Admittedly, Putin has broken international law. At the same time, the leaders of the U.S.-backed coup in Ukraine took down a democratically elected government and are increasingly demonstrating fascist leanings. While the U.S. is citing international law to criticize Putin, our country has repeatedly broken international law by intervening in Iraq, Afghanistan, Libya, and Yemen without the backing of the U.N. security council. With U.S. oil interests in the mix, the seeds of war have been sown. Furthermore, the mainstream media waters and fertilizes the seeds of war.

In the midst of these flourishing weeds of war, is anyone sowing seeds of peace? Is anyone leading with soul? Thankfully, yes. Since 2004, Quakers have been quietly training people in Ukraine in nonviolence through the Alternatives to Violence Project. AVP provides the tools and training to help people defuse conflicts large and small. In the past ten years, AVP teams in Ukraine have worked in prisons, detention centers, orphanages, foster homes, and with the military. More recently, AVP facilitators worked with citizens on both sides of the conflict in Kiev, helping them see the humanity in one another in order to break the cycle of violence. As Alla Soroka, one of the facilitators reported:

Peacemaking now in Ukraine is expressed in a particular way. We are happy that people are aware of the power of peace, and they are patient—not with their heads hanging but patient and speaking out. All of us here are learning how to be free. I think it is possible to compare Soviet times with slavery. Previously, some people still believed in a good ruler and wanted him to resolve all their problems. I think for most people, this is a time of lost illusions, and there is a new understanding of the importance of actively creating the world we all want, in which to live and breathe freely! Most people understand that this is only achieved by peaceful means.”

Teaching peacemaking in Ukraine not only provides people with tools to douse the flames of war, but also helps bring about a much-needed cultural shift toward taking responsibility for creating a better world.

Which seeds will prevail? It depends on which ones we nurture. Will we buy into the simplistic view presented by the mainstream media, or will we support peacemaking efforts like AVP? Will we speak up when others promote the U.S. government’s party line? The weeds of war may appear numerous and hardy, while the flowers of peace appear few and fragile. But history has demonstrated (through South Africa and the Berlin Wall, for example) that the flowers of peace can flourish when patiently tended. Peace is possible. Let us choose to lead with soul and nurture the seeds of peace in Ukraine.


A Veterans’ Day for Peace

Veterans for Peace – Veteran’s Day Parade
photo by Cloud2013, flickr

The hostilities of WWI ceased at 11 AM on the 11th day of the 11th month, Armistice Day, 1918.  Dubbed “The war to end all wars,” WWI closed with a commitment to peace.  A year later, American President Woodrow Wilson proclaimed November 11, 1919 the first commemoration of Armistice Day, a day for America “to show her sympathy with peace and justice in the councils of the nations. . .”

When, in 1926, the U. S. Congress officially recognized the commemoration, it proclaimed, “the recurring anniversary of this date should be commemorated with thanksgiving and prayer and exercises designed to perpetuate peace through good will and mutual understanding between nations.”  Armistice Day became a legal holiday in 1938, as a day dedicated to the cause of world peace.

What better way to honor our veterans and their sacrifices today than to take leadership in  recognizing the origins of Veterans’ Day as a day of peace?

The organization Veterans for Peace knows this.  Committed to “building a culture of peace,” VFP recognizes this origin of Veterans’ Day each year by informing the public of “the true causes of war and the enormous costs of wars.”  Today, Veterans for Peace, with over 140 chapters worldwide, will organize peace marches, Veterans’ Day parades, and commemorations. They will stage public readings of wartime letters and names of fallen soldiers, and hold exhibits and musical performances to honor and celebrate veterans.

Massachusetts Veterans for Peace are encouraging congregations across the state to revive the tradition of ringing their bells at 11 AM on Veterans’ Day for the cause of peace.

In London, “In opposition to the pro-war tone of the state parade,” Veterans for Peace will meet in Trafalgar Square and march under a banner which “reflects the original sentiment of the Armistice, ‘NEVER AGAIN.’”

What about you?  What can you do?  How can you exercise leadership in taking a stand for peace in the midst of the many conflicts in today’s world?  This Veterans’ Day might provide the opportunity for you to support diplomacy with Iran.  Or perhaps your leading is to support humanitarian aid for Syrians caught in the middle of the fighting between government and rebel forces, or to advocate for the withdrawal of all troops from Afghanistan.  Or perhaps you can join Veterans for Peace as one of their allies in your locale.

On this Veterans’ Day, it behooves us to consider how we can honor our veterans and their sacrifices by reclaiming the holiday and taking a stand for peace.  Let us join the efforts of those who understand the origins of the holiday and want to work for peace in this war-ravaged world.

Soulful Leadership for Peace in Syria

Photo Credit: flickr, DFID – UK Dept. for International Development

Time and again I hear friends say, “The situation in Syria is terrible. We have to do something. What if we had just stood by and let Hitler take over Europe? It’s time to send in U.S. troops.” On the other hand, I also hear friends say, “The U.S. is not the world’s policeman. This is a civil war in Syria. We need to stay out of it.”

Are there only two choices? Are we stuck with the options of either military intervention or a refusal to be involved?

In Engaging the Powers, Walter Wink points out that our natural responses to conflict are either flight or fight.  When faced with a threat, we think there are only two choices: fight or run away.  Yet Wink demonstrates that there is always a third way, and that creative leaders like Jesus, Gandhi, Dorothy Day, and Martin Luther King have always pointed the way toward it.

What if we stood up and said, “We want to find creative ways to help the Syrian people that will stop this terrible cycle of violence, not exacerbate it?”

This is exactly what a courageous few have been saying.  Soulful leadership in this situation means having compassion for the victims of violence in Syria while at the same time finding a third way forward. Jim Wallis, president of Sojourners, for example, points to a third way, a way of nonviolent engagement.

Friends Committee on National Legislation, too, has articulated what diplomacy in this situation could look like. Furthermore, FCNL points out the great harm that a military attack could cause, exacerbating the conflict and broadening it beyond Syria.

There are more than two choices. Neither choice in the mainstream public debate is acceptable. We need a third way that shows care for the victims while at the same time breaking the cycle of violence. We must learn not to add fuel to the fire of violence but instead to douse its flames.

How can we work together to find a better way forward? What will you do to explore an alternate approach in Syria? How will you call others to a third way?