Building a culture of peace: educational reflections for the month of peace 2012 | Custodia Terrae Sanctae

Building a culture of peace: educational reflections for the month of peace 2012

The Catholic Church considers January as the month of peace, beginning on the first day of the year with the celebration of the feast day of Mary, Mother of God and the World Day of Peace. This year, Pope Benedict XVI chose the theme of Educating young people in justice and peace, for this day, offering for reflection an eminently educational direction, aware that the ferment and drive towards ideals of young people must find "due attention at every level of society. The Church looks to young people with hope and confidence; she encourages them to seek truth, to defend the common good, to be open to the world around them and willing to see “new things” (Is 42:9; 48:6)."

Peace is a complex subject which summarizes broad horizons of ideals and values and which is conquered through patient educational action aimed at the individual. In short, the two dimensions of “small peace” and “large peace” can be distinguished, representing the two levels of reflection, the former in a short range and the latter wider ranging, that the theme covers. "Small peace” concerns the dimension of daily life, it refers to relations between individuals and which should be based on acceptance and making the most of the specificities of each person; it requires respect for diversity and the uniqueness of the other to be fulfilled, as well as and above all in the case where the subjects have different cultural traditions. “Great peace”, on the other hand, concerns the dialogue between peoples, which often requires the mediation by enlightened and qualified people on an educational and cultural level, so that the people involved learn to live in any conflict that divides them, whilst committing themselves to elaborating an “ethic of resolution and reconciliation” and tolerating the reciprocal divergences.

Educating people, and especially young people, always has to go along the path that connects these two dimensions, helping the subject to perceive in the interest, care and openness to the other the possibility and the vocation for a wider inter-subjectivity, going as far as embracing all living beings, who together take part in the highest values. The person, therefore, is the first moral centre by virtue of which peace can come into being and be spread and be taught as the central element of a constructive and active peace, but also critical as regards the limits, insufficiencies and compliances of the world. The individual, his education and the cultivation of his internal human form are at the basis of every social and historical-political renewal that can promote and increase peace and justice. The essential elements for the formation of the individual in the light of this perspective can be summarized as follows: 1) the person as moral centre: the human conscience, as Emmanuel Levinas teaches, can feel and understand the highest ethical law and assume the responsibility for moral actions as the founding action of personal, social and historical life, on which the sense of communion and interpersonal solidarity and the sharing of destinies and actions of all depend; 2) the person and values: if the root of peace lies in the interiority of man and needs to be attentively educated, it has to be remembered that real peace bears witness to the commitment of implementing the highest values, i.e. in increasing the value of the present reality, beyond the facts and the limits that exist in it, and therefore it takes on a dynamic and evolving nature which is ethically and religiously inspired, the results of which can only come from non-violent strategies and means, that crush the mechanisms of violence, injustice, tyranny and death, because good and pacific ends that can be achieved with violent, offensive and dishonest means do not exist; 3) the person and practical action: the aspiration for peace, the service for the highest values, the search for a renewed reality are the real engines of personal action and action becomes an authentic instrument of peace, acceptance and human solidarity when it opens up to the presence of the other, seen as a creative and collaborative opportunity in favour of the common good. Through this concrete commitment, the subject finds the way to emerge from his solitude and finiteness, discovering authentic proximity, therefore the other becomes the goal of the search for unity and love and this effort represents a real path of formation and self-formation characterized by a religious inspiration and by a prophetic, apostolic and pastoral project development, especially with regard to young people. Peace-oriented action can spring only from trust in man, from that trust which comes from personal intimacy and extends in a universal direction, going as far as including in its constructive and salvific practice all beings, but with the awareness of having to encounter sacrifice, suffering, fragility and weakness, that aim to redeem the logics of the power and violence of the world and the measurement of which, for Christians, is the cross of Christ.

In the Holy Land, the search for peace remains an emblematic challenge for everyone. Whilst recognizing the fundamental task of the political and juridical institutions, who have the responsibility for the common good and determining the presuppositions on which to base co-social existence and growth, the search and promotion of the adhesion of individual consciences and of social groups to the values of peace, participation and citizenship remain essential. In this sense, the educational action can do a great deal, recovering the centrality of the integral human dimension, which summarizes the ethical, cultural, spiritual and religious components of the individual. In many cases, political problems do not find an adequate solution in the use of merely political means. The founding and inspiring role of the moral and cultural dimensions with regard to the civil, social and political sphere deserves to be given greater value, seizing its immediately educational scope. The wager for a new education, that is inspired by man’s desire to become truly fulfilled in truth and justice and which develops the regenerating potential contained in the values of openness and intellectual and moral creativity, is one of the most promising opportunities to draw out new models of citizenship in the Holy Land and to nourish a culture of peace and reconciliation in which young people can truly be the central figures. The aim, therefore is to increasingly promote the passage from a mentality and from a citizenship that reproduce the conditions that fuel conflict and reciprocal diffidence to those of an open and inclusive coexistence that can introduce the factors of change necessary to a positive and peaceful coexistence of groups and peoples. For this, every form of indoctrination to violence and its justification through the construction of stereotypes, the mystification of truth and the reproduction of forms of segregation that also assail the experience of the youngest has to be abandoned. To fuel trust in the other and the creative impetus for peace, the new generations have to be helped to get to know and internalize the democratic values and the foundations of common existence whilst protecting diversities. This is the task of educating in peace and non-violence, which always, in the face of choices and acting, brings up the question: are my reasons more important/more valuable than your life?, placing as the first objective that of improving oneself. The awareness that a person can be the protagonist of choices that fight evil and violence, says Aldo Capitini, a great master and educator in this field, starts from “not considering man and particularly the child, as a being who has nothing other than a tendency towards violence and fighting, to be channelled, transformed and sublimated: for religion we recognize in the other, at least an equal, tendency to unity and love for all beings and therefore referring to that, aiming at that, education aims to confirm it and develop it."

By Caterina Foppa Pedretti