In the ministry of Pope Francis, there are certain words that he often repeats and that stand out as a series of signposts. Each signpost is an umbrella that covers a depth of meaning and application to the Christian way of life. Some of these words are tenderness, journey, mercy, accompaniment, and peace.
The word peace has been the highlight recently as the pope is making an apostolic visit to portions of Africa. In countries where corruption and violence are the rule of the day, peace is rarely known. By the world’s standards, such places are best avoided, or used by other nations for their natural resources, or merely used as pawns in a global game of chess among more powerful nations.
In such a place of overwhelming darkness, Pope Francis – imitating the elder Simeon in the Temple during the presentation of the Lord Jesus – speaks words of peace. Simeon prayed: “Master, now you are dismissing your servant in peace, according to your word; for my eyes have seen your salvation, which you have prepared in the presence of all peoples, a light for revelation to the Gentiles and for glory to your people Israel.”
Simeon spoke of peace and the possibility of redemption. In his position as chief apostle, Pope Francis is doing the same. He’s preached such a liberating message to many nations throughout the world and – for now – his heart and paternal eyes are on Africa.
The pope has oftentimes reminded the world that peace is a divine gift. It does not come about merely from the efforts and machinations of humanity. God enters into our space and time, he accompanies us, and he brings the bounty of peace with him.
Biblically, peace is a tranquility of order. It is a state of being that exists when everyone fulfills the demands of love and justice. Peace is found where God is welcome and neighbors see and treat one another as mutual children of God. Peace is the remedy to tension, misunderstanding, and violence.
The divine gift of peace certainly calls for our collaboration. In our words and actions, we must seek to be instruments of God’s peace. In the Beatitudes, it is no coincidence that the call to be peacemakers is preceded by a call to a goodness of heart and is followed by a summons to accept suffering and persecution for the sake of righteousness. Peace isn’t cheap. While it’s free, it should never be mistaken as cheap. When peace is offered, human hearts must accept the gift and the challenges that come with it.
It is for this reason that the pope will go where darkness is and where hope struggles to breath. He will kiss the feet of national leaders. He will speak the truth in love. He generously carries the yoke that comes with peace, so that peace might triumph and flourish in our day.
In a prophetic call to local leaders in Juba, South Sudan, Pope Francis pleaded: “No more bloodshed, no more conflicts, no more violence and mutual recriminations about who is responsible for it, no more leaving your people athirst for peace. No more destruction: it is time to build! Leave the time of war behind and let a time of peace dawn!”
While calling local leaders to peace, Pope Francis also calls the nations of the world to seek the justice that will allow for peace among nations. Defending Africa’s integrity, the pope demanded: “Hands off the Democratic Republic of the Congo! Hands off Africa! Stop choking Africa, it is not a mine to be stripped or a terrain to be plundered,”
Such powerful words echo Simeon’s declaration of peace, as well as so many prayers and petitions of holy ones throughout the Christian tradition. Pope Francis’ words are those of a Christian believer and of a peacemaker who seeks love and harmony in our world today. The pope’s words are the words of a person of prayer who pines for peace and desires tranquility among all people.
As the chief apostle goes, so goes the Church.
Each of us is called to imitate Pope Francis’ efforts to accept peace and let it flourish. In our lives, in our homes and families, in our neighborhoods and broader communities, in our parishes and workplaces, we are summoned to humble ourselves and kiss feet, to speak the truth in love, and to generously accep the yoke of peace and let it prosper in the portion of God’s kingdom where we’ve been sent.