In Chapter 7 of the Encyclical letter Fratelli Tutti, the Holy Father renews the call for the creation of paths of peace to heal open wounds. He also reiterates the need for peacemakers, men and women prepared to work boldly and creatively to initiate processes of healing and renewed encounter. For him, renewed encounters does not mean returning to a time prior to conflicts. All of us change over time. Pain and conflict transform us. We no longer have use for empty diplomacy, dissimulation, double-speak, hidden agendas and good manners that mask reality.
Those who were fierce enemies have to speak from the stark and clear truth. They have to learn how to cultivate a penitential memory, one that can accept the past in order not to cloud the future with their own regrets, problems and plans. Only by basing themselves on the historical truth of events will they be able to make a broad and persevering effort to understand one another and to strive for a new synthesis for the good of all.
Every “peace process requires enduring commitment. It is a patient effort to seek truth and justice, to honor the memory of victims and to open the way, step by step, to a shared hope stronger than the desire for vengeance. What is required to build peace are justice and mercy. All three together are essential to building peace; each, moreover, prevents the other from being altered, he says.
According to Pope Francis, the path to peace does not mean making society blandly uniform, but getting people to work together, side-by-side, in pursuing goals that benefit everyone. Working to overcome our divisions without losing our identity as individuals presumes that a basic sense of belonging is present in everyone. Negotiation often becomes necessary for shaping concrete paths to peace. Yet the processes of change that lead to lasting peace are crafted above all by peoples; each individual can act as an effective leaven by the way he or she lives each day.
Great changes are not produced behind desks or in offices, Pope Francis states. He explains that building social friendship does not only call for rapprochement between groups who took different sides at some troubled period of history, but also for a renewed encounter with the most impoverished and vulnerable sectors of society.
Often, the more vulnerable members of society are the victims of unfair generalizations. If at times the poor and the dispossessed react with attitudes that appear antisocial, we should realize that in many cases those reactions are born of a history of scorn and social exclusion, the Pope says.
Pope Francis then points out that forgiveness and reconciliation are central themes in Christianity and, in various ways, in other religions. Yet there is a risk that an inadequate understanding and presentation of these profound convictions can lead to fatalism, apathy and injustice, or even intolerance and violence, he warns. He clarifies that when we reflect upon forgiveness, peace and social harmony, we also encounter the jarring saying of Christ: “Do not think that I have come to bring peace to the earth; I have not come to bring peace, but a sword. The Pope explains that Christ’s words do not encourage us to seek conflict, but simply to endure it when it inevitably comes, lest deference to others, for the sake of supposed peace in our families or society, should detract from our own fidelity.
When conflicts are not resolved but kept hidden or buried in the past, silence can lead to complicity in grave misdeeds and sins. On numerous occasions, Pope Francis points out that he has spoken of “a principle indispensable to the building of friendship in society: namely, that unity is greater than conflict… This is not to opt for a kind of syncretism, or for the absorption of one into the other, but rather for a resolution which takes place on a higher plane and preserves what is valid and useful on both sides.”
Yet, according to the Holy Father, forgiving does not mean forgetting. In the face of something that cannot be forgotten for any reason, we can still forgive. Free and heartfelt forgiveness is something noble, a reflection of God’s own infinite ability to forgive. If forgiveness is gratuitous, then it can be shown even to someone who resists repentance and is unable to beg pardon, he adds.
As a final word, the Pope appeals to Christians who remain hesitant on this point, and those tempted to yield to violence in any form, to keep in mind the words of the book of Isaiah: “They shall beat their swords into plowshares” (2:4). For us, the Pope says, this prophecy took flesh in Christ Jesus who, seeing a disciple tempted to violence, said firmly: “Put your sword back into its place; for all who take the sword will perish by the sword” (Mt 26:52).
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