Continuing a tradition established by Pope Paul VI in 1968, Pope Francis proclaimed January 1, 2020, the 53rd World Day of Peace.
In a message commemorating the special day, he described peace as “a journey made together in constant pursuit of the common good, truthfulness and respect for law.”
He noted that responsible communication is a vital component in efforts to bring and maintain peace. “Listening to one another can lead to mutual understanding and esteem,” Francis said, “and even to seeing in an enemy the face of a brother or sister.”
In calling for action, he emphasized that “The world does not need empty words but convinced witnesses, peacemakers who are open to a dialogue that rejects exclusion or manipulation. In fact, we cannot truly achieve peace without a convinced dialogue between men and women who seek the truth beyond ideologies and differing opinions.”
His proclamation followed journeys in recent months to several nations in Africa and Asia, where he brought welcome messages of peace, tolerance and interfaith cooperation.
“The need for mutual respect, esteem and cooperation between religions is all the more pressing for humanity today.”
In Mozambique, for example, racked for decades by conflict that had claimed many lives, he conducted a mass in the capital of Maputo at which he said, “Overcoming times of division and violence calls not only for an act of reconciliation or peace…. It also calls for daily commitment on the part of everyone to an attentive and active concern that makes us treat others with the same mercy and goodness with which we ourselves want to be treated.”
In Mauritius, he praised the island nation as “a haven of peace.” As reported by Vatican News, “Pope Francis voiced his appreciation for the way the nation’s different religions work together towards building a harmonious society.”
Following the African visit, he traveled in November to Asia. In Thailand, his itinerary included an address to senior representatives of many religions at Chulalongkorn University in Bangkok. “The need for mutual respect, esteem and cooperation between religions is all the more pressing for humanity today,” he said. Among the challenges he enumerated was “the tragic persistence of civil conflicts.”
His visit to Thailand included a meeting with the Supreme Buddhist Patriarch, highlighting the significance of dialogue. As Francis himself later described it, “I met … as a sign of esteem and of the importance of promoting respect and cooperation between the religions.”
At a mass in Nagasaki, site of an atomic bombing in August 1945 that claimed tens of thousands of lives, he again stressed the importance of peace: “In this striking place of remembrance that stirs us from our indifference, it is all the more meaningful that we turn to God with trust, asking him to teach us to be effective instruments of peace and to make every effort not to repeat the mistakes of the past.”
An important part of his Japanese visit was a private meeting with Emperor Naruhito, the highest priest of the Shinto religion, at the Imperial Palace in Tokyo.
“The continuing work by Pope Francis to forward the positive values of peace, understanding, and respect for others should be appreciated and applauded by one and all,” said Edward Parkin, International Director of STAND. “At a time when negativity often dominates the public spotlight, the messages of understanding and enlightenment he conveyed must be celebrated and spread.”