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Peace is possible: cultivating a culture of Peace

Peace relies on cultivating a culture which sanctifies life and recognizes the inherent dignity of the human person, according to the Australian Catholic Bishops.

The Bishops' Statement for Social Justice Sunday (September 26) also instructs Australian Catholics to value access to proper nourishment, health, housing and education, as equally important in the pursuit of genuine peace.

Because Christ is at the centre of the quest for peace, it is important to discern and identify all those injustices that militate against peace, the Bishops say. These include life-threatening poverty, ethnic rivalries, the reduction of human beings to economic factors, or religious conflict. "In Christ we are called to act now in solidarity with those who do not know peace. Through our hope in the risen Christ we bring a taste of that divine peace which will come at the completion of all things in God," the Statement says.

The Bishops are particularly emphatic that the treatment of children is of primary importance, if peace is to have a chance. Families are the locus for all learned behaviours, including aggression, bullying and fear of all kinds. The Bishops commend the work of St Vincent de Paul, Centrecare and similar agencies that offer 'restorative justice': that is, providing a structure enabling those who suffer wrongs a means of confronting those wrongs, resolving them as far as possible and moving forward.

The Statement affirms the Bishops' consistent call for justice and reconciliation with indigenous Australians, as well as affirming action which promotes peace between the great faiths that co-exist in Australia. A practical measure undertaken in Tasmania is praised:

"In a local action in 2002, Bridgewater parish in Tasmania was encouraged, on the Fridays of Lent, to adopt the Ramadan practice of fasting between sunrise and sunset. This was seen as a gesture of solidarity with the Muslim community locally and as a contribution to understanding between the two world faiths. In 2001, the Pope himself fasted on the final day of Ramadan. Together with prayer and generosity to the poor, fasting has an important place in all the great religions. Such actions encourage the common religious impulse to be found in the human family."

The Bishops also encouraged Australian Catholics to protest at the actions of any governments that repress dissent and suffocate the political process.

In addition, the Bishops encouraged Australians "to join or actively support political parties and "grass-roots" movements; to seek elected office; to keep the democratic process accountable at the local level; to encourage alternative voices regarding the future of Australia; always to engage in the political struggle with the tools of non-violence."

The concerns of the world were not far away. The Statement addresses the contemporary anxieties about safe borders, international peace and terrorism. The Bishops encourage individual and collective acts of conscience that bring about the possibility of peace. By so doing, relationships are formed and peace becomes possible. The Bishops offered this example:

"At the suggestion of their parish priest, Fr Paul Bourke, parishioners of the South Australian parish of St Teresa, Whyalla, 70km from Baxter Detention Centre, have organised to have some home-made meals taken in to the centre each week by the ministers, to be shared by the detainees after each service. A parishioner comments that, "this is very much appreciated by the detainees and is a way of spreading the news that these people being held in detention are our brothers and sisters who desperately need our love and compassion. While in the overall scheme of things, actions such as these may seem minor, they are helping to break down barriers and work towards cultivating a culture of peace."

The Bishops remind the faithful that there is much structural inequity in our world which militates against peace. "In our world of more than six billion people, one billion own 80 per cent of global gross domestic product, while another one billion struggle to survive on less than $US1 per day. Each year the world produces about 300 kilograms of grain per person, yet every day more than 800 million live with the pain of hunger and 24,000 die as a result of starvation and malnutrition.

Market forces cannot be relied on to achieve a more equitable distribution than revealed in these figures, the Bishops say, and the demand for economic justice is as pressing at home as it is abroad.

The Social Justice Teaching of this 2004 Statement ultimately affirms that the pursuit of Peace is a sacred responsibility. "(Peace is) our vocation. We are called to cultivate peace wherever possible - in our families, communities, in national life and even globally. The values of truth, justice, love and freedom, when made real in people's lives, are dimensions of the abundant peace that the risen Christ brings to his followers and to the world."

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  • Australian Catholic Social Justice Council

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