Homily of Archbishop Dermot Farrell at the Annual Mass for the World Day of Peace
Church of Our Lady of Victories, Ballymun,
1st January 2022
We gather in Ballymun in this church dedicated to our Lady of Victories, and we gather on a day that the Church dedicates to Mary, the Mother of God, and we gather to celebrate the annual Mass for to universal peace, an important, and indeed essential prayer in this “world of fragile peace and broken promises.” We pray for peace in a world where so many conflicts rage on for years bringing immense suffering for thousands of people, but these wars receive not attention. These conflicts cannot be solved by ad hoc arrangements, but by dialogue and structural change.
“The world must be educated to love peace, to build it up and to defend it” (Pope Saint Paul VI, 1968). Lasting peace in the world can be achieved only by responding to the needs of current and future generations. The tools for building a lasting peace are education, work and dialogue between generations.
In his message for this year’s World Day of Peace, Pope Francis calls upon “governments to develop economic policies aimed at inverting the proportion of public funds spent on education and on weaponry.” We know from the resolution of conflicts in Northern Ireland and South Africa that only structural change creates the environment for peace to take root. An ad hoc approach, because its horizon is the immediate can never bear the same fruit.
At a more local level there are many examples where structural change has made a difference to the lives of people. For example, the provision and funding of Deis schools has made a major difference in the communities where they have been established. At secondary level they provide a second chance education, especially for mothers.
Greater educational formation helps facilitate more dignified employment opportunities which reduces poverty and counters the rise of violence and organized crime. Today there is a role not only for an academic educational formation, but also for the rediscovery of skill and artisan work. Education and employment are the tools for building a lasting peace.
Internationally, we can see conflicts smouldering—or kept smouldering—because of vested interests. For example, in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, the long-running conflict is really a conflict about scarce resources, about who has access to them, and who in the end profits from them.
Statistics do not capture the day-to-day costs of human poverty and suffering. Statistics never capture the fact that poverty slows children’s educational development, crushes their hopes and devalues their potential and aspirations. To return to Deis schools: these schools provide a structure for change and incentivise change. This structural change is beneficial for the young people as they are less likely to get involved with drugs and the associated violence. Because children attending Deis schools receive a holistic education—emotional and spiritual care, as well as pastoral care of the child and the family, the children have better employment prospects. Ultimately this frees up financial resources used to fight crime which can be better used in health care and infrastructure.
Properly viewed, education is to be seen as an investment: it is an investment that is vital for “promoting integral human development.” An investment in education is the primary means of promoting integral human development. Seen in this perspective, as an investment and not as an expenditure, education and formation make individuals “more free and responsible, and they are essential for the defence and promotion of peace.” (Pope Francis, Message for World Day of Peace 2022).
Turning to the pandemic and climate change the Holy Father says: “Diseases of pandemic proportions are spreading, the effects of climate change and environmental degradation are worsening, the tragedy of hunger and thirst is increasing, and an economic model based on individualism rather than on solidary sharing continues to prevail.” In contemporary culture there is a particular individualism which profoundly threatens society. All areas of life, employment, social, cultural and religious are impacted. When we think only of ourselves we lose sight of other people and have no regard for the injustices they suffer. We see people and the earth as a resource that can be plundered solely for our benefit.
The climate crisis brings home in a new way centrality of justice in human life: justice in all its inter-related dimensions—social, economic, climate, inter-generational, justice in a global perspective. There is a profound interrelatedness of the various dimensions of the climate crisis. For example; when it comes to education there is a direct link between clean water and attendance at school; the deterioration of the oceans has a direct effect on us also. The cry of the earth—climate change and all that comes in its wake—is intimately related with issues of injustice, exploitation, and exclusion. Environmental degradation is linked to poverty, suffering and migration. What becomes more and more clear is that the climate crisis is both an environmental crisis and a human crisis. It affects our planet and our future, but is has its roots in our approach poverty, and the way we treat the vulnerable and those on the margins of life, both here in Ireland, and across the world—not just in the developing world, but the hidden poor and disadvantaged in the developed world as well.
What scientists are presenting—the result of their long years of research—is clear and unequivocal. It requires a fundamental rethink on the part of the Church as to how we think about and act on the climate and biodiversity emergency. The challenge the world faces “is not simply economic and technological; it is moral and spiritual.” Any enduring solution requires, “an inner change of heart. [Only this] can lead to a change in lifestyle and of unsustainable patterns of consumption and production” (Pope Saint John Paul II and Patriarch Bartholomew I, “Common Declaration on Environmental Ethics.” June 10, 2002). Plundering the earth and plundering the poor go hand in hand. “We need to strengthen the conviction that we are one single human family. There are no frontiers or barriers, political or social, behind which we can hide, still less is there room for the globalization of indifference.” (LS §52). There will be no solution to the climate crisis, without facing up to our obligations to our sisters and brothers whom the West has left behind.
The COVID-19 pandemic has accentuated the gap between rich and poorer countries. Our abject failure to vaccinate people in the developing world is now coming back to haunt us. The common good, which in this instance is the protection of people, must have a global dimension. The problem untimely lies in the fairness of distribution rather than scarcity of vaccine doses. We need to put the human person, no matter what their colour or nationality “at the centre” of all political, social and economic activity. It is our faith, our living faith, that links us to the millions of people who cannot receive a vaccine. “If anyone is well off in worldly possessions and sees a brother or sister in need but closes his heart to them, how can God’s love abide in such a person?” (1 John 3:17). Justice is intrinsic to Word of God and it requires fidelity to every person created in the image and likeness of God.
We live in difficult times in all dimensions of our lives. The pandemic challenges us on the personal, social, and spiritual levels. Changing global politics mean significant readjustments in terms of power equilibria and the consequences thereof. On this Solemnity of Mary the Mother of God, the gospel presents us with a young woman cast into the unfolding of God’s saving plan for all history. Her response is both to act and to ponder these things in her heart. Church and civic leaders alike, along with all people of goodwill, must walk together with courage and creativity on the path of intergenerational dialogue, education and work (See Pope Francis, Message for World Day of Peace 2022). May the Lord guide our hearts and “our feet on the way of peace” (Luke 1:79). May we so work that our only home may truly become our Common Home—the place where mercy and faithfulness can meet (Ps 85:10)), where justice and peace can make their home.