It may be a sign of futility for some, especially in light of the increased turmoil in 2016, but Pope Francis continues a 50 year tradition of offering a message of peace on New Years day. (See earlier .famvin message with the text of Pope Francis’ sober and challenging message).
The occasion prompted me to imagine 1) what Vincent would have written in light of his experience of war? and 2) What would he ask of his followers today?
1. Vincent’s experience of war
Besides some brief and short-lived periods of peace, the century in which Vincent lived was a century of war: people suffered the consequences of the wars of religion and the upheavals of the civil wars which were often complicated by foreign wars and continual threats from the Muslim world.
We must also admit that our century is no better than the seventeenth century … in fact we have surpassed the horrors that were created by the Thirty Years War and the Fronde.
Vincent was neither an ideologue nor a theoretician. When speaking about war and peace he placed great value on the numerous eye-witness testimonies. He allowed himself to be touched by the accounts. We hear him say,
- “…the misfortune of the war has distributed equal portions of misery everywhere…”
- “…No tongue can express…”
- “…the famine here is so bad…”
2. What Vincent did in the face of his experience.
He was not only touched. He also acted.
One of the most significant examples of Vincent’s charity is the organization of relief services that were extended to the victims of the war. We see in that activity the outstanding characteristics of his genius and his holiness. Vincent knew how to make people aware of and sensitive to these events … he also knew how to appeal to people’s generosity.
Vincent offered more than first aid. He attempted to address the causes of war. During the winter of 1649 he risked his own life when he sought peace from Queen Anne of Austria and once again took the same risk in 1652 when he spoke with Cardinal Mazarin and reminded him about the lessons that could be learned from French history. Fearing no one and nothing Vincent revealed himself as a tireless artisan of peace.
For more details see David Carmona’s article “Vincent and Peace.” At the end, he offers the following observations
3. Reflection and Dialogue:
Violence and insecurity form part of our daily life.
- the means of communication are proof of the above reality: some express a fear of war, others live in the midst of war and suffer as a result of war while still others seem to desire war or at least create an environment that is favorable toward war.
- what is your knowledge about the causes that create violence and war?
- the means of communication show us war “in living color” and we have become accustomed to seeing and then forgetting. Who today remembers the Kurds, the Hutus and the Tutsis, the Chechens.
- what is your personal reaction when confronted with a situation of violence?
Blessed are the peacemakers
- How do I behave toward individuals who are foreigners, immigrants?
- How do I behave toward those who think differently than I do … am I tolerant and do I seek to enter into dialogue with such individuals?
- Do I forgive those who have wronged me?
- Do I embrace the future?
Various NGO’s and individuals seek to know and understand the root causes of conflict and thus commit themselves to the transformation of our world.
- Am I sensitive to the reality of violence and do I attempt to sensitize others?
- Do I participate with other groups and/or individuals in trying to know and understand the root causes of violence?
- In what ways can I commit myself to the cause of peace?