Francis to focus 2017 peace message on non-violence as 'political method'

by Joshua J. McElwee

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Pope Francis will dedicate his annual World Peace Day message this winter to promoting non-violent strategies to prevent and stop global violence, proposing what the Vatican is calling a "political method" to overcome armed conflicts.

"Non-Violence: A Style of Politics for Peace" will be the theme for the Jan. 1, 2017 message, the Vatican announced in a short release Friday.

"Peace ... promotes social positive consequences and it allows the achievement of real progress," states the release. "We should act within what is possible, and negotiate ways of peace even where they seem tortuous and impractical."

"Non-violence can acquire a more comprehensive and new meaning," it continues. "It will not only consist of desire, of moral rejection of violence, barriers, destructive impulses, but also of a realistic political method that gives rise to hope."

"If the rights and the equal dignity of every person are safeguarded without any discrimination and distinction, then non-violence, understood as a political method, can constitute a realistic way to overcome [armed] conflicts," states the release.

"In this perspective, it becomes important to increasingly recognize not the right of force but the force of right," it states.

World Peace Day has been celebrated by the church since 1967 and each January 1 since 1968 has seen the release of a papal message on a particular subject for the year.

The Vatican has focused on peace-making and non-violence in a particular way this year, with the Pontifical Council for Justice and Peace hosting a first-of-its-kind conference in April to reexamine the church's teaching of the just war theory.

"There is no 'just war,'" the some 80 participants of the conference stated in a joint appeal at the end of the event, in which they also called on the pontiff to consider writing an encyclical on peace-making.

"Too often the 'just war theory' has been used to endorse rather than prevent or limit war," they continued. "Suggesting that a 'just war' is possible also undermines the moral imperative to develop tools and capacities for nonviolent transformation of conflict."

This year's peace message will be Francis' fourth. He has focused his previous messages respectively on fraternity, human trafficking, and overcoming indifference.

The annual message is usually released in mid-December before being formally promulgated on Jan. 1.

[Joshua J. McElwee is NCR Vatican correspondent. His email address is Follow him on Twitter: @joshjmac.]

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