Christmas Message from the President of the Canadian Conference of Catholic Bishops: Peace on Earth!

Thursday, December 06 2001

Christmas guides us back to Bethlehem as a symbol of peace. The Christmas liturgy, using the words of Isaiah, proclaims the “Prince of Peace”. It urges us to sing with the shepherds of old, “Glory to God in the highest heaven, and on earth peace among those whom he favours.” Christians of all languages continue the chant in their homes and hearts, “Silent night, holy night!” Thus, among the many gifts that abound during this season, the most precious is peace, yet how fragile it is. This we realize when we remember the tragic events of last September 11; the response that followed in Afghanistan; the continuing conflict in the Middle East, the very territory that witnessed the birth of Jesus; the war in the Democratic Republic of the Congo; the war in the Sudan, and the conflicts in a few dozen other countries where peace simply does not appear to have the strength to establish itself permanently.

Peace is not the product of wishful thinking. For those who have encountered the Living Christ, the call to be peacemakers truly leads to happiness, as the Sermon on the Mount testifies so eloquently. Why is this biblical passage so important? Peace cannot be established without justice, while authentic human development is impossible without justice and peace. With peace, the human heart is freed to begin weaving the net of human solidarity. Peace dissipates evil and negates its strength. It allows people to be truly alive and actually taste happiness.

As with anything of beauty and value, peace thrives when cherished and protected. Peace becomes a reality through a multitude of concrete acts of justice and of attentiveness toward one’s neighbour, however different from us. Who is called upon to be a peacemaker? We think first of all of those in positions of authority, political as well as economic. With courage, generosity and wisdom, they are called to bring solutions to problems of violence, injustice, inequality, poverty and discrimination. But like each one of us, leaders harbour within their own being the potential for immense good and the propensity to make mistakes, even tragic errors. As citizens, we too are asked to do our share in standing up for what is right and true on the road to peace, even though our actions may not be popular nor seem profitable. In all areas of human relationships, we must learn to be makers of peace. Christmas is a choice moment for those gratuitous acts of love that so often prompt others in turn to share goodness and happiness. In such ways peace becomes tangible.

As Christians, we know that in working on behalf of peace, we are not alone. The Lord has given us his word and walks with us: ‘‘Peace I leave you; my peace I give to you.’’ This peace is given so we may share it. As we share bread. Given to us so we may multiply it. Bethlehem means “house of bread”. Peace and bread have affinity, one for the other. Christmas is the feast of shared bread and peace sharing.

This year as we celebrate Christmas, may we receive the wisdom and courage to be the witnesses that our times, dangerous and yet wonderful, so much need.

May the God of peace bless you abundantly.

+Jacques Berthelet, C.S.V.
Bishop of Saint-Jean-Longueuil
Canadian Conference of Catholic Bishops