Like most everyone I woke up on Wednesday to the shocking news of the violent attack the day before on the American consulate in Benghazi, Libya and the deaths of Ambassador Christopher Stevens, a Foreign Service consular official and two members of the consulate’s security team. The destruction of the consulate and the killing of the Ambassador and members of his staff occurred on the anniversary of the attacks in New York and Washington DC on September 11, 2001. The pretext for the murderous attack against our consulate in Libya, as well as the storming of the US Embassy in Cairo and various other places in the Middle East, were apparently provoked by Muslim outrage at a film produced in the United States maligning the character of the Prophet Mohammed, the founder of Islam.
I am mindful of all this as our Holy Father, Pope Benedict XVI, travels to Lebanon this weekend for an apostolic visit to sign the Post-Synodal Apostolic Exhortation, the result of a Synod of Bishops for the Middle East. In preparation for this Synod, various questions and insights were discussed. “What does it mean to love one’s enemy? How is this to be lived? How can one overcome evil with good? Christians need to be encouraged to participate in public life with the light, force and gentle character of their faith. Given the many divisions arising from religion, family and political clans, … people have to be trained to go beyond these barriers and internal hostilities to see the face of God in every person, so as to work together and build an all-inclusive, shared civic order.”
As these events are unfolding in our world, efforts here in Juneau will highlight the necessary work toward peace in our community and our world. Plans are in place for the dedication of a Peace Park downtown on the corner of Third and Seward Streets next to the Dimond Courthouse. In 2009, the Juneau Veterans for Peace proposed to the City and Borough of Juneau Assembly that a new downtown park be named after Bishop Michael Kenny. The “Bishop Michael H. Kenny Memorial Peace Park”, citing Bishop Kenny’s dedication to peace and reconciliation, will be dedicated on Friday, Sept. 21, 2012 at 5 p.m. City officials and representatives of Juneau Veterans for Peace will offer remarks with the Juneau Youth Choir in attendance.
Allow me to draw your attention to the date of the dedication. Since 1982, Sept. 21st has been observed as the International Day of Peace. This day coincides with the opening of the General Assembly of the United Nations. The goal of the United Nations is to promote peace and understanding between nations, so as, in the words of the preamble of the U.N. Charter, “save succeeding generations from the scourge of war,… live together in peace with one another as good neighbors… and maintain international peace and security.”
Although we live in an imperfect and at times violent and dangerous world, it is imperative that we never stop hoping, working and praying for peace. The International Day of Peace is a reminder to all of us that every person and every government is obliged to work for the avoidance of war. Even in those situations where recourse to armed violence is necessary and just, the bloodshed and other unavoidable evils and injustices that accompany war are always a defeat for humanity.
As Pope Benedict XVI continues his apostolic visit to Lebanon, I am mindful of the words he offered in 2007 for the World Day of Peace, “There is an urgent need, even within the framework of current international difficulties and tensions, for a commitment to a human ecology that can favor the growth of the “tree of peace”. For this to happen, we must be guided by a vision of the person untainted by ideological and cultural prejudices or by political and economic interests which can instill hatred and violence. It is understandable that visions of man will vary from culture to culture. Yet what cannot be admitted is the cultivation of anthropological conceptions that contain the seeds of hostility and violence. Equally unacceptable are conceptions of God that would encourage intolerance and recourse to violence against others. This is a point which must be clearly reaffirmed: war in God’s name is never acceptable! When a certain notion of God is at the origin of criminal acts, it is a sign that that notion has already become an ideology.”
From my perspective, hatred, rage and vile productions/commentaries are byproducts of evil. Peace is attainable when words and actions are coupled with expressions of justice and charity. As this community marks Sept. 21, 2012 with the dedication of the Bishop Michael H. Kenny Peace Park, let us strive to work and pray for peace in our lives and in our world.
• Burns is the Roman Catholic Bishop of the Diocese of Juneau and Southeast Alaska.