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War is a ‘defeat for all’ who take part, so we must build peace instead

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A United Nations peacekeeper patrols the streets in Bangui, Central African Republic. (CNS photo/Antonie Rolland, Reuters)

This April, Pope’s Francis’ monthly prayer intention is for a non-violent culture. It coincides with the 60th anniversary of John XXIII’s 1963 encyclical Pacem in Terris (Peace on Earth).

Pope Francis, in his message for April, quotes from the encyclical in saying “any war, any armed confrontation, always ends in defeat for all.”

He goes on to pray, “Let us make non-violence a guide for our actions, both in daily life and in international relations.”

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The message is a timely one, and not just for people in distant places. In recent weeks, we have been confronted with failures on both counts.

On a national scale we have the federal government committing $368 billion on nuclear submarines for the unmistakable, if unstated, purpose of helping the United States confront China militarily, even though China has not ever threatened Australia militarily.

The United States with Australia have a terrible track record of military adventurism that has ended badly: the Vietnam War that led to two million Vietnamese deaths and failed to prevent the country’s eventual Communist takeover; the Iraq war conducted on baseless claims of weapons of mass destruction that led to at least 200,000 Iraqi deaths and the emergence of ISIS and the Syrian civil war that still continues; the war in Afghanistan that also went on for twenty years before ending in defeat and a hand-back to the Taliban.

All of these wars were a “defeat for all” and war with China would be the same.

Closer to home, we saw the deeply regrettable violent incident that occurred outside St Michael’s Belfield when people, ostensibly motivated by a desire to protect the faith, violently attacked protesters outside the church.

The result was that they not only violated the dignity and integrity of the protesters, they also did a great deal of harm to the cause they were seeking to protect. It was a “defeat for all.”

In 2011, Pope Benedict XVI said in his Good Friday sermon that Jesus “invites all sides to renounce violence, even if they feel they are right. The only path is to renounce violence, to begin anew with dialogue.”

We are reminded of Jesus’s own example. He was no stranger to injustice and militarism. First century Palestine was violently occupied by the Romans and in Jesus’ community many sought to resist with violence.

Time and again, he diverts people away from the path of violence, including Peter in the Garden of Gethsemane: “He who lives by the sword, dies by the sword” (Mt 26:52).

It has been said that anyone can create a war but it takes brilliance to build a peace. Let’s take this opportunity to reflect on how to build peace in our world and in our own communities. We need to start lowering the tempo, not raising it.

On the evening of Wednesday 3 May the Justice and Peace Office of the Archdiocese will be hosting a panel discussion about the morality of modern warfare and asking how we move from just war thinking to make gospel nonviolence a reality in the world in which we live.

View and subscribe to the monthly Pope Video at, and register for the Justice and Peace event, No More Just War? at

Dr Michael Walker is social justice facilitator for the Archdiocese of Sydney’s Justice and Peace office.

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