Every year on New Year’s Day, the Pope invites us to reflect on the importance of peace. Is the world listening? - Fr. Enobong Paulinus Udoidiong - Rome, Italy.
COVID-19: Testimonies of solidarity
Even with all the suffering wrought by the coronavirus pandemic, the world in 2020, witnessed heroic examples of solidarity. Sometimes at the risk of stigmatisation, personal safety and health or even the danger of bringing the disease to their families, health care personnel continued to work tirelessly and cared for our sick. Take Nigeria, for instance, communities and individuals donated food and other essential items to those who suddenly had no income due to the lockdown. There have been testimonies of incredible solidarity everywhere. It just shows what can be done when we care for one another.
Yet as Pope Francis says in his message for the New Year 2021, “Sad to say, alongside all these testimonies of love and solidarity, we have also seen a surge in various forms of nationalism, racism and xenophobia, and wars and conflicts that bring only death and destruction in their wake,” the Holy Father said.
The endless killings in Nigeria
In my own country, Nigeria, we continued to read about and see disturbing images of killings and the kidnapping of innocent people by the Boko Haram terrorist group and other criminal elements. Sometimes news about the loss of lives has been as relentless as it is depressing. Boko Haram argue that western education is evil, so no one should have anything to do with schools or education. They propagate a distorted system belief that has resulted in so much suffering and misery. Sadly, most of those killed and the villages ransacked by insurgents have been predominantly of poor innocent villagers trying to eke a living off the land. It boggles the mind to think of what the militants gain in killing fellow humans. There is, of course, the notoriety and perhaps the ill-gotten money from the ransoms paid. Then what? The last time I checked, the armoured weaponised vehicles they use; the sophisticated weapons; the telephones and internet used to communicate and announce the brutal attacks are almost all products of technology from the West and the fruit of western education. The same education that they disdain.
Knowledge is a gift from God and is meant to be of service to humanity, not for destruction. The unnecessary killings of people that we see is really a crime against humanity and a sin against God, who is the author of life. We cannot claim to be killing for God. God who ordains life and peace cannot also approve violence and the destruction of lives.
In African traditional culture, life is always sacred
Then there are the inter-communal deadly clashes, most of them politically masterminded violence sponsored by some elites and unscrupulous politicians. Almost all traditional African cultures hold that human life is sacred, irrespective of who is involved. We cannot be enemies to ourselves and think the outside world will be a better arbiter when we fight each other. Any fight among siblings is an advantage to the outsider. Often, we say, “united we stand, divided we fall.” This saying must surely elicit in us empathy for our brothers and sisters, our differences notwithstanding. We cannot all have one point of view, but we can always find a reason to stay united. For us, Christians, in Africa, the reason is Jesus Christ. His love unites us. His love should make us not take-up arms against another Christian, but seek to resolve conflicts by peaceful means.
Towards a culture of care and peace
For Pope Francis, we can start by creating “a Culture of Care as a Path to Peace -a culture of care as a way to combat the culture of indifference, waste and confrontation so prevalent in our time.”
In this new year 2021, we should individually and collectively make up our minds about contributing to peace in our homes, community and country. As Christians, our faith teaches us that we can accomplish great things if we put on love or if our actions are motivated by love. Catholic Social Teaching also instructs that, “it is from the inner wellspring of love that the values of truth, freedom, and justice are born and grow.”
Peace begins with me
As we seek peace and progress, we cannot also lose sight of the fact that each of us believers is a crucial player in attaining peace in our society. We begin by fighting our own greed and selfishness while promoting respect for the human person’s dignity. Then we do all that we can to build a peaceful society based on the common good. We cannot sacrifice merit and competence, on the infamous altar of favouritism or always looking out only for kith and kin. Our vision as Christians must be bigger and all-embracing. Similarly, the suitability of those appointed to positions of authority should be ready to serve and to serve selflessly.
Peace I leave you, my peace I give you
Africa has everything it takes to become a dynamic, industrious, and prosperous continent. Human and natural resources are what God has given us. We just need to harness all these in love and fairness for all, making peace the very core of our societies. If we embrace peace, development will surely follow. It was Pope Saint Paul VI who stated that, “development is the new name for peace” in his 1967 encyclical Populorum Progressio. Paul VI’s vision of economic development is one where people of the world feel that they are connected to a single destiny. The peace we seek is not that which the world gives. Every day on the world market, weapons of mass destruction are being developed and sold to African countries. Countries are instigating violence. People are raising banners of war and violence, when they should be sheathing their swords, thus raising the prospects for peace. Our Lord Jesus continues to admonish us his disciples, saying, “It should not be so among you” (Mt. 20: 26). The standard of the world should not model our conduct. The bar should be higher and must be that which Christ has given. Christ says, “Peace I leave you, my peace I give you, not as the world gives do I give” (Jn. 14:27).
Give peace a chance
Peace should be our motivation in this New Year. Rising from the pain of the coronavirus pandemic, droughts, floods, locust invasions and other calamities that have befallen the continent, we should all champion the course of peace: In our families, communities and nation. Let us give peace a chance. Peace be with you!
(Fr. Enobong Paulinus Udoidiong is a doctoral student of Canon Law at the Pontifical University of the Holy Cross, Rome. He is also a contributor and collaborator of Vatican Radio’s English Africa Service. Fr. Enobong is incardinated in the Diocese of Uyo, Nigeria.)