A story of peace26 Mar 2023
Pope Francis in his April prayer intention for peace is asking us all to take a risk and trust in each other.
In stories about war there are two kinds of heroes. In most stories the hero is the fearless soldier who leads his troop into desperate situations, shoots most of the people who resist, and comes out victorious, all guns blazing. In other stories, less common and generally regarded as less exciting, the hero is a person who goes empty handed into an enemy camp, is beaten up by the soldiers, but talks their way into seeing the King and persuades him to make peace. Many lives are saved.
In Australia at present the story of the heroic soldier is the more fashionable. It celebrates the brave soldiers, civilians and political leaders who resist the enemy, insist on staying the course regardless of cost, are fascinated by weaponry and military strategy, see off all the pacifists and critics, and press on for victory. Their world is divided into allies and enemies, heroes and monsters, supporters and cowards. Afterwards, as a Roman writer said of a similar venture, ‘They made a desert and called it peace.’
Pope Francis in his April prayer intention for peace clearly favours the second kind of story and its heroes – those who make peace and not war. He wants the story of peace-making to be the one that citizens of all nations tell and to which we all listen. Where the story of peace and non-violence spreads it does so because it is more human and attractive than the stories of warlike heroes, and because those who make peace are more attractive and more complete human beings.
And yet, though their message is more attractive, people who make peace are relatively few and don’t draw a large audience. Perhaps we find it easier to see strangers as enemies and to arm ourselves against them because they touch into our fears. Our weapons, war games, battle cries and alliances help us handle our anxiety. To arm ourselves and put on masks and helmets when we go out of the places where we feel safe makes us feel secure. It increases our fear of others who are different from us, and makes us want to seek more powerful weapons to make us even more secure. If instead we are to go into the enemy’s camp with empty hands, allay their anxieties and take a risk on trusting our enemies as people like ourselves, we need to rise above our fears. That is difficult and certainly risky.
Such a risk invites people to meet person to person, not as representatives of armies. It is an act of trust in ourselves that we are worth hearing and in those whom we meet that they are human like ourselves.
The hopes that Pope Francis asks us to have are modest – to decrease the number of weapons held by persons and by states. Yet even if they did decrease only a little that would make a big difference. Fear and anger make us pile up weapons. To put some out of use speaks of growing trust and confidence.
We read often heartbreaking stories of children being shot in schools, mothers in shopping centres, and Muslims near their places of worship. If enough people say that enough is enough in one nation, enough nations decline to buy bigger and worse weapons, and that the movement to disarmament spreads, that may be the start of the better world for which Pope Francis prays.