Educators for Peace
Pope John Paul II on December 8, 1994
Mary, Queen of
peace, is close to the women of our day because of her motherhood, her
example of openness to others' needs and her witness of suffering. Mary
lived with a deep sense or responsibility the plan which God willed to carry
out in her for the salvation of all humanity. When she was made aware of the
miracle which God had worked in her by making her the mother of His
incarnate Son her first thought was to visit her elderly kinswoman Elizabeth
in order to help her. That meeting gave Mary the chance to express, in the
marvelous canticle of the Magnificat (Luke 1: 46-55), her gratitude to God
Who, with her and through her, had begun a new creation, a new history.
1. At the beginning of 1995, with my
gaze fixed on the new millennium now fast approaching, I once again address
to you, men and women of good will, a pressing appeal for peace in the
The violence which
so many individuals and peoples continue to experience, the wars which still
cause bloodshed in many areas of the world, and the injustice which burdens
the life of whole continents can no longer be tolerated.
The time has come to
move from words to deeds: many individual citizens and families, believers
and churches, states and international organizations all recognize that they
are called to renew their commitment to work for peace!
Everyone is aware of
the difficulty of this task. If it is to be effective and long-lasting, work
for peace cannot be concerned merely with the external conditions of
coexistence; rather, it must affect people's hearts and appeal to a new
awareness of human dignity. It must be forcefully repeated: authentic peace
is only possible if the dignity of the human person is promoted at every
level of society, and every individual is given the chance to live in
accordance with this dignity. "Any human society, if it is to be
well-ordered and productive, must lay down as a foundation this principle,
namely, that every human being is a person, that is, his nature is endowed
with intelligence and free will. Indeed, precisely because he is a person he
has rights and obligations which flow directly and immediately from his very
nature. And these rights and obligations are universal, inviolable and
The truth about man
is the keystone in the resolution of all the problems involved in promoting
peace. To teach people this truth is one of the most fruitful and lasting
ways to affirm the value of peace.
Women and the Teaching of Peace
2. To educate in the ways of peace means
to open minds and hearts to embrace the values which Pope John XXIII
indicated in the encyclical Pacem in Terris as essential to a
peaceful society: truth, justice, love and freedom.2
This is an educational program which involves every aspect of life and is
lifelong. It trains individuals to be responsible for themselves and for
others, capable of promoting, with boldness and wisdom, the welfare of the
whole person and of all people, as Pope Paul VI emphasized in the encyclical
The effectiveness of this education for peace will depend on the
extent to which it in involves the cooperation of those who, in different
ways, are responsible for education and for the life of society. Time
dedicated to education is time truly well spent, because it determines a
person's future, and therefore the future of the family and of the whole
In this context, I
wish to direct my message for World Day of Peace especially to women, and to
invite them to become teachers of peace with their whole being and in all
their actions. May they be witnesses, messengers, and teachers of peace in
relations between individuals and between generations, in the family, in the
cultural, social, and political life of nations, and particularly in
situations of conflict and war. May they continue to follow the path which
leads to peace, a path which many courageous and far-sighted women have
walked before them!
In Communion of Love
3. This invitation to become teachers of
peace, directed particularly to women, is based on a realization that to
them God "entrusts the human being in a special way."4
This is not however to be understood in an exclusive sense, but rather
according to the logic of the complementary roles present in the common
vocation to love , which calls men and women to seek peace with one accord
and to work together in building it. Indeed, from the very first pages of
the Bible God's plan is marvelously expressed: He willed that there should
be a relationship of profound communion between man and woman, in a perfect
reciprocity of knowledge and of the giving of self.5
In woman, man finds a partner with whom he can dialogue in complete
equality. This desire for dialogue, which was not satisfied by any other
living creature, explains the man's spontaneous cry of wonder when the
woman, according to the evocative symbolism of the Bible was created from
one of his ribs: "This at last is bone of my bone and flesh of my flesh." This was the first cry of love to resound on the earth!
Even though man and
woman are made for each other, this does not mean that God created them
incomplete. God "created them to be a communion of persons, in which each
can be a 'helpmate' to the other, for they are equal as persons ('bone of my
bone. . . .') and complementary as masculine and feminine."6
Reciprocity and complementarity are the two fundamental
characteristics of the human couple.
4. Sadly, a long history of sin has
disturbed and continues to disturb God's original plan for the couple, for
the male and the female, thus standing in the way of its complete
fulfillment. We need to return to this plan, to proclaim it forcefully, so
that women in particular--who have suffered more from its failure to be
fulfilled--can finally give full expression to their womanhood and their
In our day women
have made great strides in this direction, attaining a remarkable degree of
self-expression in cultural, social, economic, and political life, as well
as, of course, in family life. The journey has been a difficult and
complicated one and, at times, not without its share of mistakes. But it has
been substantially a positive one, even if it is still unfinished, due to
many obstacles which, in various parts of the world, still prevent women
from being acknowledged, respected, and appreciated in their own special
dignity.7 The work of building peace can
hardly overlook the need to acknowledge and promote the dignity of women as
persons, called to play a unique role in educating for peace. I urge
everyone to reflect on the critical importance of the role of women in the
family and in society, and to heed the yearning for peace which they express
in words and deeds and, at times of greatest tragedy, by the silent
eloquence of their grief.
Women of Peace
5. In order to be a teacher of peace, a
woman must first of all nurture peace within herself. Inner peace comes from
knowing that one is loved by God and from the desire to respond to His love.
History is filled with marvelous examples of women who, sustained by this
knowledge, have been able successfully to deal with difficult situations of
exploitation, discrimination, violence, and war.
women, especially as a result of social and cultural conditioning, do not
become fully aware of their dignity. Others are victims of a materialistic
and hedonistic outlook which views them as mere objects of pleasure, and
does not hesitate to organize the exploitation of women, even of young
girls, into a despicable trade. Special concern needs to be shown for these
women, particularly by other women who, thanks to their own upbringing and
sensitivity, are able to help them discover their own inner worth and
resources. Women need to help women, and to find support in the valuable and
effective contributions, movements and groups, many of them religious in
character, which have proved capable of making in this regard.
6. In rearing children, mothers have a
singularly important role. Through the special relationship uniting a mother
and her child, particularly in its earliest years of life, she gives the
child that sense of security and trust without which the child would find it
difficult to develop properly in its own personal identity and,
subsequently, to establish positive and fruitful relationships with others.
This primary relationship between mother and child also has a very
particular educational significance in the religious sphere, for it can
direct the mind and heart of the child to God long before any formal
religious education begins.
In this decisive and
sensitive task, no mother should be left alone. Children need the presence
and care of both parents, who carry out their duty as educators above all
through the influence of the way they live. The quality of the relationship
between the spouses has profound psychological effects on children and
greatly conditions both the way they relate to their surroundings and the
other relationships which they will develop throughout life.
education is extremely important. If relationships with parents and other
family members are marked by affectionate and positive interaction, children
come to learn from their own experience the values which promote peace, love
of truth and justice, a sense of responsible freedom, esteem, and respect
for others. At the same time, as they grow up in a warm and accepting
environment, they are able to perceive, reflected on their own family
relationships, the love of God Himself; this will enable them to mature in a
spiritual atmosphere which can foster openness to others and to the gift of
self to their neighbor. Education in the ways of peace naturally continues
throughout every period of development; it needs particularly to be
encouraged during the difficult time of adolescence, when the passage from
childhood to adulthood is not without some risks for young people, who are
called to make choices which will be decisive for life.
7. Faced with the challenge of
education, the family becomes "the first and fundamental school of social
living,"8 the first and fundamental school
of peace. And so it is not difficult to imagine the tragic consequences
which occur when the family experiences profound crises which undermine or
even destroy its inner equilibrium. Often, in these circumstances, women are
left alone. It is then, however, that they need to be assisted, not only by
the practical solidarity of other families, of communities of a religious
nature and of volunteer groups, but also by the state and by international
organizations through appropriate structures of human, social, and economic
support which will enable them to meet the needs of their children without
being forced to deprive them unduly of their own indispensable presence.
8. Another serious problem is found in
places where the intolerable custom still exists of discriminating, from the
earliest years, between boys and girls. If from the beginning, girls are
looked down upon or regarded as inferior, their sense of dignity will be
gravely impaired and their healthy development inevitably compromised.
Discrimination in childhood will have lifelong effects and will prevent
women from fully taking part in the life of society.
In this regard, how
can we fail to acknowledge and encourage the invaluable efforts of so many
women, including so many congregations of women religious, who on different
continents and every cultural context make the education of girls and women
the principal goal of their activity? Similarly, how can we fail to
acknowledge with gratitude all those women who have worked and continue to
work in providing health services, often in very precarious circumstances,
and who are frequently responsible for the very survival of great numbers of
Women, Teachers of Peace in Society
9. When women are able fully to share
their gifts with the whole community, the very way in which society
understands and organizes itself is improved, and comes to reflect in a
better way the substantial unity of the human family. Here we see the most
important condition for the consolidation of authentic peace. The growing
presence of women in social, economic, and political life at the local,
national, and international levels is thus a very positive development.
Women have a full right to become actively involved in all areas of public
life, and this right must be affirmed and guaranteed, also, where necessary,
through appropriate legislation.
of the public role of women should not however detract from their unique
role within the family. Here their contribution to the welfare and progress
of society, even if its importance is not sufficiently appreciated, is truly
incalculable. In this regard I will continue to ask that more decisive steps
be taken in order to recognize and promote this very important reality.
10. With astonishment and concern we are
witnessing today a dramatic increase in all kinds of violence. Not just
individuals but whole groups seem to have lost any sense of respect for
human life. Women and even children are unfortunately among the most
frequent victims of this blind violence. We are speaking of outrageous and
barbaric behavior which is deeply abhorrent to the human conscience.
We are called upon
to do everything possible to banish from society not only the tragedy of war
but also every violation of human rights, beginning with the indisputable
right to life, which every person enjoys from the very moment of conception.
The violation of the individual human being's right to life contains the
seed of the extreme violence of war. For this reason, I appeal to all women
ever to take their place on the side of life. At the same time I urge
everyone to help women who are suffering, and particularly children, in a
special way those scarred by painful trauma of having lived through war.
Only loving and compassionate concern will enable them once again to look to
the future with confidence and hope.
11. When my beloved predecessor, Pope
John XXIII, indicated the participation of women in public life as one of the
signs of our times, he also stated that, being aware of their dignity, they
would no longer tolerate being exploited.9
Women have the right
to insist that their dignity be respected. At the same time, they have the
duty to work for the promotion of the dignity of all persons, men as well as
In view of this, I
express the hope that the many international initiatives planned for 1995--
of which some will be devoted specifically to women, such as the conference
sponsored by the United Nations in Beijing on work for equality,
development, and peace--will provide a significant opportunity for making
interpersonal and social relationships ever more human, under the banner of
Mary, Model of Peace
12. Mary, Queen of peace, is close to
the women of our day because of her motherhood, her example of openness to
others' needs and her witness of suffering. Mary lived with a deep sense or
responsibility the plan which God willed to carry out in her for the
salvation of all humanity. When she was made aware of the miracle which God
had worked in her by making her the mother of His incarnate Son her first
thought was to visit her elderly kinswoman Elizabeth in order to help her.
That meeting gave Mary the chance to express, in the marvelous canticle of
the Magnificat (Luke 1: 46-55), her gratitude to God Who, with her and
through her, had begun a new creation, a new history.
I implore the most
holy Virgin Mary to sustain those men and women who, in the service of life,
have committed themselves to building peace. With her help, may they bear
witness before all people, especially those who live in darkness and
suffering and who hunger and thirst for justice, to the loving presence of
the God of peace!
From the Vatican, December 8, 1994
1. Pope John XXIII, encyclical
Pacem in Terris (April 11, 1963), I: AAS 55 (1963), 259.
2. Cf. loc. cit., 259-264.
3. Cf. Pope Paul VI, encyclical
Populorum Progressio (March 26, 1967), 14: AAS 59 (1967), 264.
4. Pope John Paul II, apostolic
letter Mulieris Dignitatem (Aug 15, 1988), 30: GAS 80 (1988), 1725.
5. Cf. Catechism of the Catholic
Church, No. 371.
7. Mulieris Dignitatem,
8. Pope John Paul II, apostolic
exhortation Familiaris Consortio (Nov 22, 1981), 37: AAS 74 (1982),
9. Cf. Pacem in Terris,
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