A new year

by Bp José Luis IMC

(A reflection on Pope Francis 2023 message for peace
prepared for our diocesan podcast service)

Livi laba yinyama!

Not sure you are aware, but in the Catholic Church, every year on January 1 which is the feast of Mary Mother of God, we dedicate that very first day of the year to pray for peace.

The Pope issues a message encouraging our prayer and helping us reflect on a special dimension of peace.

This was not started by Pope Francis or Pope Benedict. It has been so since 1968, it was Pope Paul VI initiative 55 years’ ago.

Imagine the amount of material we have from Paul VI, John Paul II, Benedict XVI and Francis. If we would just take time to reflect on those 56 messages for peace, even if we would read a message a week, it would take us more than one year.

Among the reasons Paul VI chose to launch this day of prayer was the following one:

“the necessity of defending Peace in the face of dangers which always threaten it: the danger of the survival of selfishness in the relations among nations; the danger of violence into which some populations can allow themselves to be drawn by desperation at not having their right to life and human dignity recognized and respected”

When I go through these messages I am overwhelmed at the vision of situations that remain real still today.

These messages for peace might have inspired my predecessor Bishop Louis Ncamiso Ndlovu. His motto was: the source of peace is justice. In 1972, Pope Paul VI had issued a message saying: “if you want peace, work for justice.”

For this day of prayer Pope Francis message is titled: No one can be saved alone. Combating Covid-19 together, embarking together on paths of peace

Pope Francis takes time to reflect on the lessons learned during COVID19 because, he says: “we never emerge the same from times of crisis: we emerge either better or worse.”

He remembers what we went through:

“Covid-19 plunged us into a dark night. It destabilized our daily lives, upset our plans and routines, and disrupted the apparent tranquillity of even the most affluent societies. It generated disorientation and suffering and caused the death of great numbers of our brothers and sisters… the pandemic seems to have upset even the most peaceful parts of our world, and exposed any number of forms of fragility”

Indeed, it was so.

So, what did we learn from that crisis? He says:

“we can say that the greatest lesson we learned from Covid-19 was the realization that we all need one another. That our greatest and yet most fragile treasure is our shared humanity as brothers and sisters, children of God. And that none of us can be saved alone.”

and therefore

“This experience has made us all the more aware of the need for everyone, including peoples and nations, to restore the word “together” to a central place. For it is together, in fraternity and solidarity, that we build peace, ensure justice and emerge from the greatest disasters.

These two elements of our togetherness and the need of everyone are particularly important for our country. The government has insisted that the national dialogue will take place and we cannot but hope and pray it is so because it will be a clear sign of what we have learned from COVID19: that we need one another, that no one can be saved alone and that everyone is needed.

One challenge that Pope Francis brings in his message is that this is not the post-COVID area we had hoped for or expected. For nearly year, a war between Ukraine and Russia has affected us all in this our globalised world. It is “a setback for the whole of humanity”. Indeed. Any war, between countries or a civil war is indeed a setback for our humanity. It is exactly the opposite of what we have learnt: there is no fraternity, no solidarity, no coming together…

All this is even more challenging because, as he says,

“While a vaccine has been found for Covid-19, suitable solutions have not yet been found for the war. Certainly, the virus of war is more difficult to overcome than the viruses that compromise our bodies, because it comes, not from outside of us, but from within the human heart corrupted by sin”

Even here, for us, in our country, the main challenge we face is to overcome the virus of violence that comes from our hearts corrupted by sin.

Plenty of food for thought at the beginning of a new year. We might be tempted to say: “may God help us!” Well, God has indeed helped us already. This is what we celebrate on Christmas’ day: “in our own time, the last days, God has spoken to us through his Son” The Word became flesh and dwelt among us, we read in the Gospel of John.

May this child, the prince of peace, find a place in our hearts and transform you and me in peacemakers.

May you have a blessed year,

+ José Luis IMC
Bishop of Manzini