By Cian Molloy - 01 January, 2017
Little acts of love and kindness can melt even the most stubborn of vengeful hearts, says Archbishop Eamon Martin of Armagh in a message for World Day of Peace, which is celebrated today, New Year’s Day, 1 January.
Inaugurated in 1967, World Day of Peace is a holy day of obligation in most parts of the world, even when it does not fall on a Sunday. Pope Francis called on Church leaders to use this year’s 50th anniversary of the solemnity as an opportunity to reiterate the Christian message of non-violence and non-retaliation.
Archbishop Martin starts his message by recalling his own formative experiences before he was ordained. “As a teenager growing up in Derry, I remember being inspired by the witness of the Peace People who brought many ordinary people onto the streets in a call for an end to the terrible violence at that time,” he says.
“The mid-seventies saw some of the most shocking bombings and shootings of ‘the Troubles’. Terrible tit-for-tat sectarian murders were leaving more and more families bereaved and traumatised. It is hard to believe that it is now forty years since Mairead Corrigan and Betty Williams were awarded the 1976 Nobel Peace Prize for their courageous stand against all violence.
“They touched my heart at the time, and the hearts and minds of so many ordinary women and men from every community who had enough of awful violence and who wanted to help build a better future based on dialogue, reconciliation, peace and cooperation. Some people said that the Peace People were naive, others, that they were being manipulated. For me, their message and actions were motivated by a strong belief in non-violence and a conviction that peace begins from the ground up in the simple yet powerful actions of good people who want to break the downward cycle of death and destruction.”
The Archbishop compares political violence and domestic violence and says that both can be overcome by examining our hearts and minds. “Because it is here that all violence, anger, and the desire for revenge and retaliation begin,” he says. “Sadly, there is so much violence even in our own neighbourhoods and violence and aggression is often hidden in families behind the front doors of our own homes. I was shocked recently to learn of the extent of domestic violence that leads to phone calls every twenty minutes or so to police and support services.”
Looking at how best to curb violence of all kinds, the Primate of All Ireland says: “We can all contribute during 2017 to peace if we learn to model our lives more closely on the beautiful, yet challenging example of Jesus. Saint Francis of Assisi, Saint Mother Teresa, Saint Thérèse of Lisieux assure us that little acts of love and kindness can melt even the most stubborn of vengeful hearts. Dr Martin Luther King, Mahatma Gandhi, the Peace People and many others since have shown that it is possible to mould the path of non-violence and non-retaliation into a powerful movement for change and reconciliation.
“The final words of Pope Francis in his message for the 50th World Day of Peace sum it up – ‘All of us want peace. Many people build it day by day through small gestures and acts; many of them are suffering, yet patiently persevere in their efforts to be peacemakers. In 2017, may we dedicate ourselves prayerfully and actively to banishing violence from our hearts, words and deeds, and to becoming nonviolent people and to building nonviolent communities that care for our common home’.”