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Peace in Our Times

A Pastoral Letter of the Catholic Bishops'
Conference of the Philippines

    Peace will be but an empty sounding word unless it is founded on truth, built according to justice, vivified and integrated by charity, and put into practice in freedom (Pacem in Terris, 167).

Beloved People of God:

When set in the context of our current situation, the above words written 30 years ago at Easter, 1963, by Pope John XXIII are words that both convict and inpire.  They convict because the very absence of peace in our day implies the lack, too, of the values that make for peace:  order, truth, justice, love and freedom.  But those same words stir our hope.  We need not look far and wide for the road to peace.  The directions are there--in the very practice of those same components of peace.  How easily said, how terribly difficult to do, and live!

Yet constantly, unceasingly, mightily must we "seek peace and pursue it"  (Ps 34:24; 1 Pt. 3:11; cf. our pastoral letter of January 31, 1990).  Peace is the cry and anguish of our people.  It is also the prayer-greeting of the Risen Lord:  "Peace be with you"  (Lk. 24:36).

Although we have written you many times in the past about peace (e.g. pastoral statements of November 21, 1986; January 26, 1987; pastoral letter of January 31, 1990), still we must continue exhorting you, beloved People of God, that we might work together towards peace in our times.  Together then, let us reflect, pray, and act on "the things that make for peace" (Lk. 19:42).

Order.  It was the great St. Augustine who first defined peace as the "tranquility of order" (De Civitate Dei , XIX, 13).  How true this is!  There can be no tranquility when there is disquiet, unrest, confusion, disharmony.  And there can be no order unless there is authority, law, obedience to it, discipline.

And yet we read everyday in our newspapers reports that seem to describe, not order, but anarchy:  kidnappings, massacres, the involvement of  "peace officers" in serious, even violent crimes.  Our people cry out, "If such is the case, who can keep the peace?  Who can enforce law and order?"

Again and again, we must say that keeping the law and observing order are the responsibility of each and everyone of us.  We are not dispensed from this obligation, simply because there are police and military officers whose professional work is precisely to defend and promote law and order.  Still it is this very responsibility that makes it doubly damnable when the violators are themselves officers of law and order.  To them we proclaim the words of the Lord:  "Repent and believe in the Gospel!"  (Mk. 1:15).

Truth .  The order on which peace is to be founded cannot itself be founded on a lie, on untruth.  Order must be built on truth.  "Speak the truth to one another, render in your gates judgments that are true and make for peace..."  Zech. 8:16).  Otherwise order will collapse, it will disintegrate.  And a most fundamental truth is about the human person:  human dignity, human worth, the human imaging of God who is Truth.

Yet we look around us, we are barraged by various offenses against human dignity and worth, such as the glorification of sex and violence in cinema and television.  Woman is degraded.  Human life is bereft of immortal value.  The truth about the human person is under siege.  We exhort you, our brothers and sisters in the Lord, to join hands in a concerted and systematic campaign to cleanse our media of such untruth.

Justice .  If to respect the truth of the human person is to honor and esteem God's gift of dignity and worth, it follows that we must give what is due to another.  This is justice in its most fundamental sense.  There are duties to oneself, to other persons, to the community, to the nation, to God.

Yet we are appalled by the many injustices that are being committed, even more by the apparent lack of conscience with which they are perpetrated.  Services, development, rights that are due to the people are not given.  The wheels of justice turn agonizingly slowly, especially for the poor, and often not at all.  Reports tell us scams in government projects, "hoodlums in robes," ill-gotten wealth, the looting and plunder of public coffers past and present, billions of taxes not being paid.  Such reports describe a people reeling under the weight of injustice.

It is along the lines of justice that we have to reflect on loving forgiveness and reconciliation.  Authentic love requires the exercise of justice.  When thus a person repents--has a change of heart--and resolves to restore/restitute what has been taken unduly from another, or from the community or nation, forgiveness and reconciliation follows.  Without justice love and reconciliation would simply be hollow.

Charity .  Charity is love.  There is first of all the love we must have of God.  And God himself said that love for him is shown in obeying his law (cf. 1 Jn. 5:3), in keeping his word.  But his word is also concernd about loving others as oneself, for if one hates his brother how can one say he loves God?  (cf. 1 Jn. 4:11, 20).  Love demands the kind of concern that will drive one to sacrifice self for the good of others.  "Greater love has no man than this, that a man lay down his life for his friends"  (Jn. 15:13).

But, alas, what do we see around us?  A driving ambition for wealth and power at the expense of the law of God, the self-aggrandizement of the few at the expense of the many, exploitation of laborers, of farmers and tribal communities, the lack of concern for the "little people" who are already without voice and power, vendettas, kidnappings, massacres, crimes against persons and property.  The law, the love of God and neighbor are thrown by the wayside in favor of power, possession and pleasure.

A return to God and one's neighbor is, therefore, absolutely necessary for peace to be restored.  "Great peace have those who love your law; nothing can make them stumble" (Ps. 119: 165).  Every measure taken in the achieving of peace will always fall short without the fundamental ingredient of love.

Freedom .  Peace cannot last when it has to be forever imposed and sustained by sheer force.  This is one of the dramatic and tragic lessons of the breakdown of peace in many parts of the world today.  We must, therefore, establish an order in which we freely choose the way of peace, freely do what needs doing for its attainment.

Military operations and armed insurgencies cannot establish such an order.  This is why we are led to reflect at this moment on the ongoing efforts for peace in our land.

Today's Peace Efforts.  In the first three months of this year, a national consultation was conducted by the National Unification Commission.  The haves and the have-nots , professionals and the basic sectors, people of various  ideologies ranging from the extreme left to the extreme right all had their say.  Unprecedented in its coverage the consultations resulted in the drawing up of a truly people's agenda for peace.  And their voices resounded as one, naming the root causes of unpeace such as povery and economic oppression, unequal power and its abuse--all traceable to a fundamental lack of truth and justice, the lack of freedom and charity.

One and all they expressed a strong desire and will for peace.  We supprt and shall foster such desire and will.  We welcome new initiatives and developments at peace-making resulting from the popular consultation.  We pray that the holding of talks between dissident groups and the government be pursued to a just and peaceful conclusion.

We shall, by the means available to us, help sustain a climate of dialogue.  We would only ask that solutions agreed on be not purely political quid pro quo compromises but always geared to the real good of the people--what makes for their peace, their development, the improvement of their living conditions.  Let the people be the "third party" to the talks, whether they are bodily present or not.  They must not be left out.

Social Pacts .  From the experience of the recent past we have learned how futile it is to create peace without people's participation.  This is why Pope John Paul II, referring specifically to the Philippines (cf. Letter of Pope John Paul II on the eve of his birthday, 1991, to the Philippines Ambassador to the Holy See), suggested "a new forum of solidarity":

    It is surely not beyond possibility that in many countries--including the Philippines--there might be established a new forum of solidarity, a social pact as it were, between those responsible for public life, those who control the economy, those engaged in education and scientific and technological development, and other forces within society; a pact in which all would agree to work for improved conditions, but in a way that would benefit even greater numbers of their fellow-citizens by educating them for increased participation in economic and civic life.

The actual social pact arrived at in recent months has specified the Pope's suggestion regarding "other forces of society":  Not just government and business and the more affluent private sectors are to be brought into the pact but the basic sectors themselves as well, labor, urban poor, peasants, fisherfolk, tribal communities, such of our people as suffer from inequities of our social order.

The pact looks ultimately to the re-structuring of our political-economic system, more immediately to the redressing of wrongs and the honoring of rights.  All this by actual doing, by concerted action.

We encourage and will help promote the forging of similar pacts at all levels of society:  not only at the national, but also at the regional, the provincial, the municipal, all the way down to the barangay.

A new forum of solidarity, people coming together to bring about a new social order--it is from such a process that peace will flourish forth.  This is why Pope John Paul II is supremely confident that peace is the fruit of solidarity (cf. SRS, 39).

Christ our Peace .  No human effort, no matter how brave, sincere and well thought of, can alone achieve the peace we desire.  The making of peace is a journey that must be made with Christ.  "Christ is our peace...  that he might create in himself one new humanity in place of two, thus making peace" (Eph. 2:14-15).  This is the reason that peace making initiatives cannot do without prayer to the Lord, who himself builds the house of peace.  We, therefore, commend and continue to encourage the many groups of the faithful who have organized themselves to pray for peace.  We ask that at the parish level such groups be also organized.

But even more, we remind the whole Church to be closely united to Christ--"you will have peace by being united to me" (Jn. 16:33).  Separated from him, our efforts will be puny and futile.

United with one another, united with Christ.  Such is true people power, inspired and infused by faith.  Once in our recent history seven years ago at EDSA, in a manner that astounded the world, we demonstrated what people in solidarity can do.

Today it is a challenge that is thrown at us once again:  by our faith to our faith.  May we all rise to this challenge and be equal to it.

May God the Father and Jesus Christ, the Father's Son, give us grace, mercy, and peace; may they be ours in truth and love (2 Jn. 1:3).

For the Catholic Bishops' Conference of the Philippines:

Bishop of Butuan
President, CBCP

12 July 1993
Tagaytay City

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