Cardinal Blase J. Cupich

Peace, a journey of solidarity and fraternity

January 8, 2020

In the summer of 1995, I joined some friends on a trip to Germany, 50 years after the end of the World War II. Visiting a small town one day, we were drawn to the center square by a band playing the “Star Spangled Banner.” As we drank beer and ate brats, we struck up a conversation with some locals. At one point I observed how much I admired the resilience of the German people, who rebuilt a nation, both economically and ethically, in just five decades. Indeed, their diligence was evident not only as they took up the work of reconstructing cities devastated by the war, but also through their efforts of reconciliation and reparation with the victims of Nazism.

“Yes,” responded an elderly man who had served during the war, “while reconciliation required more effort and resolve than reconstruction, both only came over time.

“In fact,” he continued, “this is the first time in our history that we have had 50 years of peace, which has taught us that in moments of conflict we need time and patience. War solves nothing in the present, but only robs the future.”

That conversation came to mind as I reflected on the Holy Father’s message for the World Day of Peace on Jan. 1. Like my German interlocutor, Pope Francis calls attention to the staggering long-term costs of war. “Our human community,” he reminds us “bears, in its memory and its flesh, the scars of ever more devastating wars and conflicts that affect especially the poor and the vulnerable.” 

The first step on the path to peace, he tells us, is hope. Given the many obstacles to peace, we need to have confidence that the goal of peace “is great enough to justify the effort of the journey. Hope is thus the virtue that inspires us and keeps us moving forward, even when obstacles seem insurmountable.”

Similarly, the pursuit of peace must also involve a commitment to human solidarity and respect for others in their diversity. “Every war is a form of fratricide that destroys the human family’s innate vocation to brotherhood,” the pope writes. “War, as we know, often begins with the inability to accept the diversity of others, which then fosters attitudes of aggrandizement and domination born of selfishness and pride, hatred and the desire to caricature, exclude and even destroy the other. War is fueled … by fear of others and by seeing diversity as an obstacle.”

In words that seem so timely in this present moment, he warns against “a false sense of security sustained by a mentality of fear and mistrust, one that ends up poisoning relationships between peoples and obstructing any form of dialogue. We cannot claim to maintain stability in the world through the fear of annihilation, in a volatile situation, suspended on the brink of a nuclear abyss and enclosed behind walls of indifference.”

Promoting human solidarity and fraternity “is a social undertaking, an ongoing work in which each individual makes his or her contribution responsibly, at every level of the local, national and global community.” Recalling the words of St. Paul VI, it requires a commitment to “an education to social life, involving not only the knowledge of each person’s rights, but also its necessary correlative: the recognition of his or her duties with regard to others” (“Octogesima Adveniens”).

But this social undertaking also requires “an ecological conversion,” for there is a connection between our hostility toward others and our lack of respect for our common home. The abusive exploitation of natural resources as a source of immediate profit implies a lack of regard for “local communities, the common good and nature itself.”

The journey toward peace, therefore, involves changing the way we think about others, making them our brothers and sisters, but also changing the way we think about our world, understanding it as the home we share with the whole human family.

“This journey of reconciliation also calls for listening and contemplation of the world that God has given us as a gift to make our common home. Indeed, natural resources, the many forms of life and the earth itself have been entrusted to us ‘to till and keep’ (Gn 1:15), also for future generations, through the responsible and active participation of everyone. We need to change the way we think and see things.”

The elderly veteran I met in the small German town spoke with wisdom that is needed now more than ever: “War solves nothing in the present, but only robs the future.” It is the “true wisdom” that Pope Francis writes about in “Laudato Si’” (47), which is “the fruit of self-examination, dialogue and generous encounter between persons” and which comes from personal and direct contact “with the pain, the fears and the joys of others and the complexity of their personal experiences.” It is a wisdom seared in our minds by the brutality of war, but also that values “peace as a great and precious value, the object of our hope and the aspiration of the entire human family.”

Let us guard that gift and take the needed steps, secure in the knowledge that peace “is a goal great enough to justify the effort of the journey.”


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