Peace and Everyday Life

Author: Cardinal François-Xavier Nuguyên Van Thuân


Cardinal François-Xavier Nuguyên Van Thuân,
President of the Pontifical Council for Justice and Peace

In today's world it is not possible to hide. Wherever we go, events catch up with us, as do our responsibilities. We cannot run away, because the world has shrunk and isolation is no longer a choice for anyone.

This new dimension of our existence—the fact that it is impossible to hide—has a deep ethical meaning. It actually means we cannot even hide from our moral responsibilities. In this sense, too, the world has grown smaller. We can no longer pretend not to notice or look away, because there is nowhere else to turn any more. This is surely a kind of globalisation: the globalisation of ethical problems and moral responsibilities, appeals and commitments. We can no longer say, "it does not concern me", or "it has nothing to do with my country", or "it happened so far away that there is nothing I can do". The terrifying facts of 11 September and their consequences have made this clear, especially to the citizens of the so-called developed world; until that day, they thought of war as something far away. As the hi-jacked aircraft smashed into New York's Twin Towers, walls crumpled and tension spread throughout the world. At the same time, the images of the disaster burst into homes and brought with them the drama of violence and death, things now made real and brought close to home. It was as if the whole world, with all its tensions and conflicts, had suddenly rushed into one room; it was as if the world's dramas had come to visit us at home. From really close by came an appeal and an urgent demand for action, some kind of response. History knocked on all our doors and reminded us that it was no longer possible to hide even there, in our own homes. Any idea of things being "far away" was behind us and there was no longer any clear difference between the outside world and the inner, private world.

As one, we became more aware of the radical urgency of the question of peace. The very fact of war breaking in on everyday life meant it lost any remaining semblance of conventionality. The very fact that it could come and sit next to any of us, showed us its nihilistic face, the way it develops without any logic. This frightened us, because human beings have always sought to ensure that, however tragic it may be, war can always be to some extent controlled, confined and brought back to some sort of logic. For all these reasons, I think that, today, the appeal for peace will echo louder in everyday life. In the light of this partly altered picture, the Church needs and feels obliged to invite everyone to reflect further on peace, to recognise the new face of peace at the beginning of this Millennium, and to grasp what peace requires of each of us.

When we speak of everyday life, we are wrong to see it as something relatively or totally unimportant. On the contrary, everyday life is the environment closest to us; it is all the more meaningful precisely because it involves us as persons. The meaning of existence is disclosed above all in day-to-day actions and relationships between people. Everyday life is not something private, but very public, inasmuch as it is here that people meet and make plans. War, principally but not exclusively in the form of terrorism, has invaded this zone of everyday existence. Each of us has felt threatened in our everyday life by the possibility that a lethal bomb may explode or that there may be some more or less invasive form of chemical or bacteriological warfare. An office struck by a hi-jacked aeroplane is a powerful image; it has produced this new sensation that conflict may even penetrate one's daily workplace. News of bombs exploding in squares and restaurants and the possibility of being mortally wounded, like enemies in wartime, while one is intent on carrying out the most ordinary everyday actions, sow a feeling of insecurity that affects the workday existence of so many women and men.

That is why the response of peace has to begin precisely in everyday life. The major virtue today is precisely that of giving everyday actions a new meaning in terms of peace and brotherhood, being at one's post, and doing one's duty with dedication. The work we do each day, family life and life with our neighbours and every "neighbour" could take on a new nuance of peace-making and openness, agreement and mutual understanding.

Peace needs strong peacemakers, but we should not think everyday life is undemanding just because it is nothing exceptional. A genuine gesture of closeness can often be very tiresome and may require a good deal of moral strength. The Lord says, "whoever believes in me will perform the same works as I do myself, he will perform even greater works" (Jn 14,12). With the strength of faith and the Lord's help great things can be done for peace, but "great", in this context, should not be taken to mean extraordinary. An action from everyday life can be great, too.

The Holy Father has spoken frequently on the theme of peace since the massacre on 11 September and during the war in Afghanistan. He has often asked for practical and, let us say, simple signs of peace: mercy for victims, help for survivors, solidarity with refugees, prayer for all. He wrote in the Message for the World Day of Peace that this prayer "is not an afterthought to the work of peace. It is of the very essence of building the peace of order, justice and freedom. To pray for peace is to open the human heart to the inroads of God's power to renew all things. With the life-giving force of his grace, God can create openings for peace where only obstacles and closures are apparent; he can strengthen and enlarge the solidarity of the human family in spite of our endless history of division and conflict" (n. 14).

Christianity has much to say about this. Christ said, "Peace I bequeath to you, my own peace I give you" (Jn 14,27). It is a peace that is expressed in terms of everyday life, inasmuch is it is given and lived in a personal encounter with Him, in the home at Nazareth or in the upper room, a peace that is meant to become part of daily life. "Peacemakers" (Mt 5,9), who are blessed in the Son of God's eyes, make small everyday actions prophetic, because "the man who is trusted in little things can be trusted in great" (Lk 16,10). War has come into our homes, into everyday life, and so it is even more urgent that the work of peacemaking, of making social relationships human again, should begin at home, too.  

Taken from:
L'Osservatore Romano
Weekly Edition in English
16 January 2002, page 6

L'Osservatore Romano is the newspaper of the Holy See.
The Weekly Edition in English is published for the US by:

The Cathedral Foundation
L'Osservatore Romano English Edition
320 Cathedral St.
Baltimore, MD 21201
Subscriptions: (410) 547-5315
Fax: (410) 332-1069