World Council of Churches

A worldwide fellowship of churches seeking unity, a common witness and Christian service

Reflection by the papal nuncio in Geneva

Reflection in a service of prayer for peace at the Ecumenical Centre Geneva March 2003

21 March 2003

at the Ecumenical Centre, Geneva, March 2003
by the papal nuncio in Geneva, Msgr. Diarmuid Martin

In the days to come the mountain of the Lord's house
Shall be established as the highest of the mountains
And shall be raised above the hills;
All the nations shall stream to it

Many people shall come and say
Come, let us go up the mountain of the Lord
To the house of the God of Jacob
that he may teach us his ways
and that we may walk his paths

For out of Zion will go forth instruction
And the Word of the Lord from Jerusalem
He shall judge between the nations
And shall arbitrate for many peoples
They shall beat their swords into ploughshares
And their spears into pruning hooks
Nation shall not lift up sword against nation
Neither shall they learn war any more

Is. 2, 2-4


"Nation shall not lift up sword against nation; neither shall they learn war any more".

In these days, so many religious leaders and so many religious believers have repeated their no to war, their conviction that war is always a defeat for humankind.

Indeed, the modern means of rapid communication around the world have brought together, in a hitherto unknown fashion, so many persons, young and old, in every corner of the world - from the rising of the sun until its setting - who have made their own a rejection of war, who do not want to see nation against nation in our generation. Believers have joined with so many who may not share their faith but who wish, in the words of the Charter of the United Nations, "to save succeeding generation from the scourge of war, which twice in our lifetime has brought untold sorrow to mankind"

Rarely if ever before, has this flow of communication, this yearning for peace been so strong, that public authorities have realised that, the decisions regarding the use of force, cannot be made today without having to confront also the power of the thoughts and hearts of citizens who want peace.

"Neither shall they learn war any more". It is time for our world, once and for all, to move beyond the logic of war and all forms of the arrogance of power.

It is time for us to renew our conviction also that the arrogance of power can paradoxically be humbled by the conviction of the weak and the apparently powerless. Throughout history, there have been many examples of the Saints and of the humble who through their concrete gestures of peace, of friendship above boundaries, have been able to change the destiny of their generation, and have bent the stubborn hearts of those bitterly pointed on the ways of war and violence.

The enormous progress that has been made in so many aspects of our life makes the recourse to war even more paradoxical. Scientific progress must be accompanied by progress in humanism. Our civilization deserves better than war. We are capable of better. I was struck by a recent phrase - a powerful phrase but an uncomfortable one - of Pope John Paul II who criticized "the very personal sins of those… who take refuge in the supposed impossibility of changing the world". We should never give up on that possibility.

That is what brings us together here today. Not to judge. Not to blame. Yes, to express our sadness, that this new century with so many promises of hope, still finds nation against nation, with the horrible suffering of innocents, especially those who are the weakest, the sick and the elderly, the mothers and the young children.

Yes, we come together in hope. We believe that it is possible to change the world. We believe that our civilization has within itself the power to overcome the logic of war and to dismantle the instruments of terror, through the rule of law and vigour of solidarity.

My heart goes out today to all those caught up in this war. Day after day, over the past years we have seen, if not the faces, at least the statistics concerning the innocent population of Iraq: we know their suffering; we know how their physical strength has been drained and their dignity humiliated. And now they hover in fear. Our civilization must know that liberation comes not through such humiliation, but through enabling the women and men of our time to be the people that God made them to be, in his image and likeness.

My heart goes out to the soldiers on all sides. So many of them are so young ! They too deserve better than being asked to guide the weapons of destruction and death. War for them is also a defeat for their humanity. The hearts of our young people deserve better than having "to learn war" once again in our day.

"Nation shall not lift up sword against nation; neither shall they learn war any more". Since the time when the Prophet cried out these words, it has been the dream of people not to pass war from one generation to the next. Why has our twenty-first century civilization, with all its promise, not learned that yet ?

We have to come to reaffirm, as believers, that we are not helpless. We can speak with the words of the Psalmist, even when we feel that God is angry with us and has not heard our prayer:

"O Lord, God of hosts, how long will you be angry with your people's prayers.
You have fed them with the bread of tears and given them tears to drink in full measure".

But we know that God is a God of mercy and compassion. If we follow his ways, it is he then who will change our world and will touch the hearts of the arrogant:

"Bring us back, O Lord of hosts; let your face shine, that we may be saved".