Peace Takes Courage

Oct. 2-8, 2003
Peace Takes Courage
By Connie Cissell/ SUN editor
SUN photo(s) Paul Finch
Bishop Costello explained the church’s history of peace and non-violence

The ninth annual Journey of Faith conference took place Saturday, Sept. 27 at the OnCenter in Syracuse. This year’s Journey theme was “Sowers of God’s Peace.” The presenters focused on topics ranging from the prophets to forgiveness to delightful discipline. The event-goers are typically those involved in religious education programs or youth ministry, but there are some attendees who come to the Journey of Faith to add new dimensions to their spirituality and to gain knowledge of the church. The conference, which is developed by the diocese’s Religious Education Office, welcomed about 400 participants this year to the day-long event which also included exhibits from 16 different organizations.

One of the afternoon workshops, presented by Bishop Thomas Costello, was titled “The Challenge of Peace.” Bishop Costello said that society is still recovering from Sept. 11 and is now engaged in military action in Afghanistan and Iraq, and still not sure about the future with North Korea. “It is not a comfortable world,” the bishop said. Bishop Costello asked those gathered to revisit documents developed by the church in the past, specifically Pope John XXIII’s “Pacem in Terris” and the U.S. bishops’ pastoral letter “The Challenge of Peace — God’s Promise and Our Response.” Those two documents, written in 1963 and 1983 respectively, were developed during very different times, he said. “We still need to develop some kind of nuclear ban. We talked about it but it hasn’t been accomplished,” Bishop Costello said. He walked through the documents, reminding the listeners that it is admirable and a right of Catholic Christians to abstain from war and violence, just as it is a right to take part in conflicts. He spoke about the dangers he sees today as the U.S. appears to abandon some of the sources of working toward peace, such as the United Nations. The bishop said he is afraid that countries are not seeking new strategies and not using time for reflection and conscience-forming.

The Second Vatican Council, he said, brought some fresh air into the church and breathed a “new Spirit, new inspiration” into the church. The Catholic Church became, from that point forward, a servant church. What Pope John was trying to say with Vatican II, the bishop said, is that Catholics need to take a look at the world around them. “John helped us understand that we are in the world, not just of the world,” Bishop Costello said. The church began to explore its relationship with the world more closely after Vatican II, he said. Human rights, economic rights and the church’s business of the salvation of souls became connected with everyday things, like the tools needed to work, jobs, nutrition, political and social issues. “John’s church made politics become seen as a part of the human community. He saw that the church has to be involved. He extended his attention not just to Catholic Christians but to all people of goodwill. This was a whole new methodology,” the bishop said. “He said, ‘Look around you, see what’s happening and understand how God is communicating with you.’”

The signs of the times back then were not so different from those of today — the arms race, nuclear threats, environmental destruction and the changes technology brings to society. Through the documents of the church over the past 40 years, the church became, the bishop said, a pacifist church. He added, “Of course, not all envelope-holders would agree with that.”

The church’s history of the acceptance of conscientious objection is still in place. Church teaching says that nonviolence is a legitimate Christian reaction and that blind obedience is not required. Teaching tells Catholic Christians that the arms race does not build peace, but instead fosters war. Bishop Costello described the process that the U.S. bishops followed when drafting and re-drafting the documents on peace. It was a tedious process that was full of discussion and some disagreement, but the outcome was clear. The church as remained aligned with the presumption always being against war. Bishop Costello described peace as something that is both here and yet to come; it is a gift, yet it’s something for which you have to work. “Peace is not just the absence of war, Bishop Costello said, “It is something that flows from the heart of people. It comes from the Creator.”

He questioned President George Bush’s reasons for the current war in Iraq. “Why are we doing it? What was at stake?… It seems to me we need greater clarity on reasons why,” he said. The bishop also mentioned the recent $87 billion dollar price tag for fighting this war. “What does this do to neighborhoods and poor people in this country?” he asked. The state does have an obligation to provide security to its citizens, the bishop said. But, for the Catholic Christian individual, nonviolence is certainly acceptable and not cowardly, but rather courageous.

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