New York Encounter: The first Easter and peaceThe presentation “Peace on Earth” at the New York Encounter with Archbishop Gabriele Caccia, Permanent Observer of the Holy See to the UN, and Most Reverend Borys Gudziak, Metropolitan Archbishop of Philadelphia of the Ukrainian Catholic Church.
“It is a Sunday and the risen Lord says to his disciples, ‘Peace be with you.’” The 2023 New York Encounter’s event “Peace on Earth” opened with Archbishop Gabriele Caccia, Permanent Observer of the Holy See to the UN, recalling us to the first Easter. In the encounter between the risen Christ, Lord of Peace, and his apostles the Church discovers its contribution to peace on earth. Indeed, Archbishop Caccia urged everyone to look at all injustices in light of the risen Christ.
Quoting Pope Francis, he continued: "The peace Jesus gives to us at Easter is not the peace that follows the strategies of the world, which believes it can obtain it through force, conquest, and various forms of imposition. […] The peace of the Lord follows the way of meekness and mildness: it is taking responsibility for others. Indeed, Christ took on himself our evil, sin, and our death. He took all of this upon himself. In this way he freed us. He paid for us. His peace is not the fruit of some compromise, but rather is born of self-giving” (General Audience of Pope Francis, April 13, 2022).
Tracing the history of the Church’s teaching on peace, Archbishop Caccia recalled the 1962 Cuban Missile Crisis, a time when the world suffered a great moment of tension, with the threat of nuclear war looming on the horizon. Moved by this global crisis, the following year Pope John XXIII wrote Pacem in Terris stressing that peace is a value for all of humanity, not just for Christians. Two years later, the Second Vatican Council’s document Gaudium et Spes asserted that peace is a process interwoven with the common good of humanity.
Archbishop Caccia explained that after the Council’s insistence on the value of peace, in December of 1967, Pope Paul VI instituted a World Day for Peace: it would be celebrated on the first day of each year, with the certainty that the best wish for the new year is that of peace. On January 1, 1968, the first World Day of Peace, Pope Paul VI said, “It is our desire that, every year, this commemoration be repeated as a hope and as a promise, at the beginning of the calendar which measures and outlines the path of human life in time, that Peace with its just and beneficent equilibrium may dominate the development of events to come.”
Now, fifty years after the promulgation of Pacem in Terris, Archbishop Caccia invited us to return to its basic principles and to affirm, along with Pope John XXIII that, “love, not fear, must dominate the relationships between individuals and between nations.”
The Most Reverend Borys Gudziak, Metropolitan Archbishop of Philadelphia of the Ukrainian Catholic Church shared his understanding of the prophecy of peace in light of his experience and of the recent history of Ukraine: “Peace is really a divine thing. It is the life of the trinity whereas war is the work of the devil. War is the violation of every single commandment. It is the violation of God’s will.” The work of fostering peace is inhibited by the fact that we are sinners and that the wars around the world are instances of the Original Sin being repeated and magnified. “God is a giver, and he gives life to the first persons, creating them in his image and likeness to live in a relationship of love and peace. God the giver says, ‘Live the life of the gift, just do not take the fruit of this tree because you will bring death into human existence.’ But, as we know, instead of receiving the gift of existence, the person grabs. This is what war is. It is a big grab.”
In times of crisis, we often ask, “what can I do?”. A common response might be social and humanitarian activity. Instead, Gudziak insists that while those things are essential, Christians need to remember the fundamentals, namely prayer, subsidiarity, solidarity, and the common good. In the experience of discovering these fundamentals as we live out our daily lives, hope grows within us. “Every joy that is shared is doubled and every pain that is shared is cut in half.” He then added: “Keep doing what you are doing. Pray. Be informed about the clear moral issue at hand. Help however you can. We cannot stop a tsunami, but we can offer our witness.” He continued, “In the face of evil, we can live the life of the gift and reject the grab. Sooner or later God’s truth will prevail. It always does. In such confidence lies our peace in this world.”
Just as Davide Prosperi, President of the Fraternity of CL, said at the beginning of the New York Encounter’s Mass for Peace, “Our responsibility, also as a Movement, is above all to patiently build, day after day, places of education and hope, fostering relationships in which the gaze on the other is inclusive of what he or she is. The task we feel as Christians is to witness in our daily work that only hope can build.” In the same vein, Archbishop Caccia quoted Gaudium et Spes saying, “But since the concrete demands of this common good are constantly changing as time goes on, peace is never attained once and for all, but must be built up ceaselessly. ”Only hope can build, and our hope is ultimately rooted in the experience of the first Easter where the Lord of Peace greets his friends in the flesh. That very beginning of the peace of Christ generated and sustained their own hope and memory that peace is possible. It is the same for us today.
The dialogues that take place at the New York Encounter strive to be a witness of this ‘peace-building’. Those who come, speakers and audience, perceive this common work. As Archbishop Gudziak said in his opening remarks, “When someone comes to one of your gestures, looking from the side, he sees much joy and warmth, and this generates peace in itself. That is the ministry of the Church.”