Bishop Mark Davies’ Pastoral Letter for Peace Sunday, 19 January 2014:
I write to you on this Peace Sunday, conscious that 2014 marks the centenary of the outbreak in 1914 of the Great War. Wherever you are listening to this letter you will not be far from a War Memorial built to remember those who died in this first, global war and the successive wars and conflicts which flowed from it. It was a tragedy which touched almost every family in our Shrewsbury Diocese.
I wish us to mark this sombre centenary by inviting you to make 2014 a year of prayer for peace in our world and for peace in our own hearts and consciences: truly a year for reconciliation. I want us to recognise anew that in the words of today’s Gospel – Jesus Christ is the Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world and grants us peace (cf John 1:36).
Historians tell us that the whole train of events which, a century ago, led to destruction and bloodshed on an unimaginable scale could have been broken at any stage, if there had only been a change of heart. I find it chilling to read accounts of how the Declaration of War in 1914 was welcomed with public rejoicing across Europe’s cities, as the saintly Pope Pius X died broken-hearted at the unfolding tragedy. St. Pius X, and his successor, Pope Benedict XV, appealed tirelessly for peace, but their pleas went unheeded. It was not to be the last time in the 20th Century that the voice of Peter’s Successor would be out of tune with popular opinion. More than nine million perished in that First World War, and many more millions would suffer and die in the decades which followed, thus making the 20th Century, in Blessed John Paul II’s memorable phrase, “the century of tears.”
A hundred years ago a change of heart had been needed to avert this tragedy. In September last year, Pope Francis called for a World Day of Prayer and Fasting for Peace as the agony of the Syrian people threatened to escalate into a regional or even global conflict. It was a day called with great urgency. Via our parishes and local radio I was able to invite many of you to share in that day of prayer and penance, which saw vigils in some of our parish churches continue long into the night. Pope Francis clearly saw that only a change of heart could hope to change the cycle of violence in which, said the Holy Father: consciences fall asleep and we sharpen our ideas to justify ourselves.
I have no doubt that this worldwide initiative of prayer and fasting contributed to the change of heart which saw nations seek again the paths of peace. As peace talks begin this month we must continue to pray for Syria conscious of the many killed and injured and the families displaced by heartless violence.
In his message for this Peace Sunday Pope Francis’s reminds us that while international agreements and national laws are necessary and greatly to be desired they are not in themselves sufficient to protect humanity. “A conversion of heart is needed …” the Holy Father insists. At the Vigil for Peace in St. Peter’s Square last September Pope Francis explained: “When man thinks only of himself, of his own interests and places himself at the centre, when he permits himself to be captivated by the idols of dominion and power, when he puts himself in God’s place, then all relationships are broken and everything is ruined; then the doors open to violence, indifference, and conflict” (7th September 2013).
On that same September evening Pope Francis addressed each one personally when he said: “Let everyone be moved to look into the depths of his or her conscience …” Peace begins and is lost within the human heart. As the Second Vatican Council declared half a century ago: “Insofar as men are sinners, the threat of war hangs over them and will so continue until Christ comes again; but insofar as they vanquish sin by coming together in charity, violence itself will be vanquished …” (Gaudium et Spes n.78)
May this year 2014 be a year to open our hearts to God’s gift of peace; a year for us to be reconciled, to confess the sins which take peace away: a year to recognise the place of the Sacrament of Penance and Reconciliation in our lives. May this anniversary which recalls the tragedy of a century ago serve now to turn our eyes in faith to Jesus Christ, the Lamb of God, who takes away our sins and grants us peace.
With my prayer that 2014 will be marked by many graces for us all,
Bishop of Shrewsbury
(Photo by Simon Caldwell)