As conflicts rage in various parts of the world and the winds of war threaten Europe, people should remember their power to choose leaders who promote peace and fraternity, rather than the path of self-destruction.
We used to call them “just wars”. Even now some people define them with this term.
They claim it is enough to check off a brief list of principles and the conflict is justified. Pretexts can hide self-interest and a thirst for power—allegedly—and any remaining doubts can be dispelled by denying the evidence. The “righteous goal” blots out the resulting collateral damage, destruction, and deaths of innocent victims.
Throughout history, a certain form of theology has even given warlords justification to trigger conflicts of all kinds, as long as the war was initiated by the legitimate authority, perhaps even as a matter of honor. Of course, Hitler had to be stopped. Of course, terrorists should be stopped. The weak must be defended from oppression and the violence of the powerful. This is a duty. There is no true peace without justice and freedom. So the reasoning goes.
Weapons of meekness
Yet, today as never before, we need prophets of peace, men and women who offer new gestures, unthinkable in the midst of violence, people who are a light for humanity, fighting with the weapons of meekness.
St. Francis of Assisi offers an example: he traveled as a helpless pilgrim during the Crusades to the Sultan, grasping the Gospel in his hands. Martin Luther King Jr and Gandhi, too, stared down power with weakness. As did Dorothy Day and Teresa of Calcutta, who fought exclusion not with hatred but with justice and love.
Today we need leaders who do new things, not offer the usual trite words which hasten the same old wars. We need people to gain a renewed conscience, so that they never allow themselves to be deceived by rhetoric that hits at the heart of their emotions. The world needs not more words, but deeds of peace.
Leaders for peace
In this moment, the responsibility of each one of us is greater than in the past, because the destructive power of weapons can quickly lead humanity down the path of suicide.
It is the people who make their leaders. Let the people choose a form of politics that is prophetic, a leader who can transform swords into plowshares and spears into sickles.
We need fraternity as never before. We need to discover that we are all brothers and sisters.
Let us no longer call wars “just”, as Pope Francis has said. Let us build peace. Let us choose leaders of peace. Otherwise, we risk self-destruction.
With thanks to Sergio Centofanti and Vatican News, where this article originally appeared.