Why We Should Celebrate World Day of Peace With Pope Francis

A picture of the Vatican to celebrate World Day of Peace with Pope Francis.

Happy New Year!

January 1 is a day for many to rev down from the bustle of the Christmas season, get in some final visits with family and friends, watch college football, and maybe share a good luck meal. For Catholics, it is also a holy day, the Solemnity of Mary.

But for the contemporary Church, January 1 has additional significance as well. In 1967, Blessed Pope Paul VI declared January 1 to be the World Day of Peace, and it has become an annual occasion for popes to call the Church to awareness and action on issues of peace and justice.

What is World Day of Peace?

The first observance of the World Day of Peace was on January 1, 1968. In his address for that first observance, Paul VI established the day as a mandate for the Church to recognize its social mission and call faithful men and women to their duty to work for integral human development.

Every pope since — St. John Paul II, Benedict XVI, and Francis — has issued a new World Day of Peace message annually. And these messages have included major ideas and teaching from these popes. In 1972, Paul VI coined his famous axiom, “If you want peace, work for justice”; John Paul II turned attention to the environment in 1990, a time when environmental ethics was not nearly as prominent of a topic as today; and in 2006 Benedict XVI offered a nuanced theological preview of his 2009 encyclical Caritas in Veritate in a message entitled “In Truth, Peace.” And now, Pope Francis continues this legacy, and has even augmented it.

Pope Francis’s World Day of Peace messages

As Francis has defined his pontificate with his urging of the Church to go to the margins of society, he has been in many ways a pope of peace and justice. As such, his World Day of Peace messages have become bellwethers for his pastoral leadership. For example, in his 2016 message, Francis offered a critique of “globalized indifference” to the plight of the vulnerable. He acted on this call later that year, creating the new Vatican Dicastery for Promoting Integral Human Development.

On January 1, 2017, Francis issued his next World Day of Peace message, “Nonviolence: a Style of Politics for Peace.” This statement followed after the Vatican hosted a conference in 2016 to re-evaluate the viability of the Just-War theory, and was followed in 2017 with Francis making several related moves. He visited Colombia, a nation where a major peace agreement had just been signed; he planned a visit to South Sudan, a nation torn by civil war (though sadly this visit had to be cancelled due to security concerns); and the Vatican hosted another major conference concerned with the “politics of peace.” This conference addressed nuclear disarmament, and it saw Francis alter traditional teaching on nuclear weapons by declaring not only their use, but their possession, to be unequivocally immoral.

2018 World Day of Peace focus

All this is to say that the annual World Day of Peace message has become an increasingly significant tool for popes to chart the Church’s priorities. It is something to which Catholics need to pay attention, as it has become an agenda-setter for the Church’s social mission, inviting parishes to awareness and involvement, tasking scholars and leaders with advancing thought and teaching, and directing the action and advocacy of the global Church’s institutions and agencies. The message this year, and the issue to which Pope Francis is calling the Church’s energy, is migrants and refugees.

The World Day of Peace message is always formally dated January 1, but it is typically released in the weeks preceding New Year’s Day. The 2018 message was issued on November 13, 2017, symbolic since that is the feast day of Saint Frances Xavier Cabrini, patroness of migrants. The message, titled “Migrants and refugees: men and women in search of peace,” contains what the pope calls “four mileposts of action” on behalf of migrants and refugees.

The first is “welcoming,” expanding pathways for legal entry to countries where migrants and refugees can find peace; second is “protecting,” recognizing and defending the inviolable human dignity of those seeking safety from real threats to that dignity; third is “promoting,” working to advance integral human development; and fourth is “integrating,” allowing and enabling resettled persons to achieve full participation in the communities that take them in. Domestically, the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB) has compiled a resource and prayer handout to lead people in heeding the pope’s call. Additionally, Share the Journey, a joint website of the USCCB, Catholic Charities, and Catholic Relief Services (CRS) is filled with resources for prayer, action, and learning around migrants and refugees.

4 ways to live out the 2018 World Day of Peace message

There are myriad ways that local parishes and individual Catholics might act on the 2018 World Day of Peace message on January 1 and throughout the year. Borrowing from Pope Francis’s four-milepost formula, here are four strategies by which you can to integrate the World Day of Peace into your life this year.

1. Learn.

Read the 2018 World Day of Peace message. Also, there are numerous websites to learn about Catholic efforts for peace and justice. Visit the Catholic Peacebuilding Network website, scan their news updates, and read about their work. Check out CRS-University and their learning commons. They have a module on migration, and other archived material about other peace and justice topics. And stay engaged with organizations that keep you up to date on the issues.

2. Inform.

Start a conversation about the World Day of Peace message on social media about creating a better world. The USCCB has a helpful resource page for studying CST. Connect with others with whom you can grow in your understanding and commitment to the Church’s social mission.

3. Act.

Visit Catholics Confront Global Poverty and read their toolkit for action. Sign up to receive action alerts from the USCCB Office for Justice, Peace, and Human Development and action items from the Office for Migration and Refugee Services (MRS).

4. Pray.

Join Pope Francis in praying for peace today, and throughout the year to come.
Grotto quote graphic of Pope Francis that reads, "'Peace, which the angels proclaimed to the shepherds on Christmas night, is a profound aspiration for everyone, for each individual and all peoples, and especially for those who most keenly suffer its absence.' —Pope Francis, 2018 World Day of Peace."

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