Leela Ramdeen, Chair, CCSJ & Director, CREDI
"The world must be educated to love peace, to build it up and defend it.—Blessed Paul VI
On September 21, the world will observe the International Day of Peace. The theme this year is: “The Right to Peace—The Universal Declaration of Human Rights at 70.”
The UN General Assembly has declared this as “a day devoted to strengthening the ideals of peace, both within and among all nations and peoples”. UN Secretary-General, António Guterres says “It is time all nations and all people live up to the words of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, which recognizes the inherent dignity and equal and inalienable rights of all members of the human race. This year marks the 70th anniversary of that landmark document.”
Since the Universal Declaration does not include a separate article on “The Right to Peace”. We are asked to reflect on what “The Right to Peace” means to each of us. Countries are a long way from implementing the 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) which UN Member States signed in 2015. To achieve meaningful peace, we must address the critical issues outlined in these SDGs eg, “poverty, hunger, health, education, climate change, gender equality, water, sanitation, energy, environment, and social justice”.
SDG16 Peace, Justice and Strong Institutions calls for “promoting peaceful and inclusive societies for sustainable development, providing access to justice for all and building effective, accountable and inclusive institutions at all levels. A peaceful society is one where there are justice and equality for everyone. Peace will enable a sustainable environment to take shape and a sustainable environment will help promote peace”.
In January this year, Pope Francis, in his peace message, asked us to “embrace those who endure perilous journeys and hardships in order to find peace. He urges people of faith to turn with a ‘contemplative gaze’ towards migrants and refugees, opening our hearts to the ‘gaze of faith which sees God dwelling in their houses, in their streets and squares’ ” (www.usccb.org). What more can you and I do to act on the four mileposts for action he laid down: welcoming, protecting, promoting, and integrating? It is encouraging to note the number of parishes that have established Migrants and Refugees Ministries. These men, women, and children are also in search of peace.
And remember, we will not attain peace until we reconcile with God’s Creation. On Sunday, we observe the International Day for the preservation of the Ozone Layer, that “fragile shield of gas, protects the Earth from the harmful portion of the rays of the sun, thus helping preserve life on the planet” (UN). While we welcome the new mandate of the 30-year-old Montreal Protocol, let us celebrate the accomplishments generated by this protocol eg, the “phase-out of controlled uses of ozone-depleting substances and the related reductions have not only helped protect the ozone layer for this and future generations but have also contributed significantly to global efforts to address climate change; furthermore, it has protected human health and ecosystems by limiting the harmful ultraviolet radiation from reaching the earth” (www.un.org).
Our world is sorely ill. There are countless wars being waged globally at this moment. Violence seems endemic across the world. Countries are spending trillions of dollars on weapons of mass destruction while many of their citizens go hungry and live in abject poverty. Archbishop Desmond Tutu is right: “Stability and peace…will not come from the barrel of a gun, because peace without justice is an impossibility.”
You and I can make a difference. Join the Non-violence Begins With Me Movement (call: 625 6730). Let’s celebrate each small step we take to promote peace. Mahatma Gandhi was right when he said: “Non-violence is not a garment to be put on and off at will. Its seat is in the heart, and it must be an inseparable part of our very being.” You and I can be part of the solution. But first, we have to do as Pope Francis says and “say ‘no’ to hatred and violence—with action—and ‘yes’ to fraternity and reconciliation”.
The UN shares some simple steps that we can take eg, seek peaceful resolution of conflict when disagreements arise around you; prevent an injustice at school or in your community by adopting a non-violent approach to problem solving and reporting potential crimes, including online bullying; speak up when others are at risk and stand with others’ human rights at work, at school, at home, in communities.