"Do not be overcome by evil but overcome evil with good"
by Bernardo Cervellera

Comments on John Paul II's Message for the World Day of Peace.

Vatican City (AsiaNews) – Between the dangerous threat of preventive war and the sterile noise of pacifism, the Pope chooses to "build" peace.   But to do this, he needs neither violence nor protest marches, but maintains and fosters "decisions and actions inspired by good".  This year's message for the World Day of Peace is based on a disarming topic, to say the least: "Do not be overcome by evil but overcome evil with good."  Quoting from Saint Paul's Letter to the Romans (Rm 12:21), these words affirm that peace is…won when evil is defeated by good"; "to flee what is evil and hold fast to what is good" is "the only truly constructive choice".

Evil and the person

Addressing the leaders of nations and all men and women of good will, John Paul II prompts us toward constructive hope and undertakes to convince us that evil can be truly overcome with good.  On the question of peace, our world has concocted various images: there are those who demonize certain states and situations as the "axis of evil" and others that demonize the only remaining superpower, the United States, or economic globalization.  For both fronts, the annihilation of the other is the only chance for peace.  Then there are countless masses of men and women for whom peace building is nothing but a vain enterprise because evil, international politics, injustices, and violence surpass human capabilities.  The Pope says to them: "Evil is not some impersonal, deterministic force at work in the world.  It is the result of human freedom." (no. 2)  And if the "mystery of iniquity", "the world rulers of this darkness" and "the spiritual forces of iniquity" are present and active in the world, "we must not forget that redeemed humanity is capable of resisting evil and actively cooperating in the triumph of good" (no. 11).

It has been often said that terrorism and inanition are bred by desperation, by believing that a situation cannot be changed.  In his Message, the Pope rules out, first of all, violence as a way to resolve conflicts:  "violence," he says, "is an unacceptable evil…Violence destroys what it claims to defend: the dignity, the life, the freedom of human beings" (no. 4).  But then the Pontiff makes two important statements: conditions of evil can be changed since evil is the fruit of human freedom which chooses to do the wrong thing; and that change can come about by treating an enemy for what he is: a human being: "If your enemy is hungry, feed him; if he is thirsty, give him something to drink" (Rm 12:20).

World Citizenship

Along with the discovery of the personal dimension of individual responsibilities in doing evil or good, the Message affirms the need to rediscover the "grammar of the universal moral law" (cf no. 3, etc.).  Such "grammar" indicates the shared values and principles that unite all human beings, "despite their different cultures".  Relations between men and peoples, cultures and states are determined neither by ethical relativism and spurious illuministic tolerance nor by provincialism barricaded in racial specificities.  A Europe sets its course by its economic interests and puts aside the wealth of its Christian culture and human rights becomes by the same token the target of China that, by claiming the "Chinese" specificity of its development, denies its people free unions and democracy.  The same can be said of Myanmar, North Korea, many African states, and the Middle East.  "As a member of the human family", part 6 of the Message states, "each person becomes as it were a citizen of the world, with consequent duties and rights, since all human beings are united by a common origin and the same supreme destiny."

Such "common origin" and "destiny" gives meaning and urgency to working for the "common good", by "constantly looking out for the good of others as if it were his own" and through "true international cooperation, to which every nation must offer its contribution", in the knowledge that the earth's good have a "universal destination". (no. 5).

John Paul II calls us to international solidarity along the lines already emphasized in his social encyclical Centesimus Annus:

Sharing of the "new goods" derived from scientific knowledge and technological progress, breaking down "barriers and monopolies that marginalize many peoples" (no. 7): no doubt among these is the need for affordable drugs to fight AIDS in Africa.

Efforts in favour of the "common interests" of the international community: the fight against poverty, the promotion of peace and security, concern for climate change and disease control, establishing international juridical accords inspired by the "principles of fairness and solidarity".

Taking on the "challenge of poverty" and the extreme poverty in which millions of people are living, through the reduction of foreign debt, financial aid and development assistance, with "scrupulous adherence, on the part of both donors and recipients, to sound administrative practices" (no. 9).

Africa's poverty

The Message reserves special concern for the African continent.  Though referring here and there to the international situation, terrorism, the plight of Palestine as well as that of Iraq, the Pope's concern is for "development in Africa", torn by armed conflicts, disease, extreme poverty, and political instability.  The Pope urges Africa to cease being a "mere recipient of aid, and [to] become a responsible agent of convinced and productive sharing".  By the same token, he asks the international community and Christians to take a "radically new direction", creating "new forms of solidarity, at bilateral and multilateral levels".  The well-being of the peoples of Africa, John Paul II states, "is an indispensable condition for the attainment of the universal common good".

The transcendent and Christian dimension

The world's imbalances are in fact highlighted by this appeal for Africa.  In past years in fact, Africa has been abandoned by global capitalism and left on the margins of globalization.  Investments and concerns go mainly to the Middle East, petroleum and the blossoming economies of the Far East.  But all this stems from short-sightedness.  The world needs to acknowledge, the Pope says, the interdependence that exists between rich and poor countries: "development either becomes shared in common by every part of the world or it undergoes a process of regression even in zones marked by constant progress" (no. 10).  For this to be possible, it is necessary to overcome "certain reductive visions of humanity [that] tend to present the common good as a purely socio-economic state of well-being lacking any transcendent purpose, thus emptying it of its deepest meaning. Yet the common good has a transcendent dimension, for God is the ultimate end of all his creatures." (no. 5).

This proposal for a spiritual and ethical dimension to economics goes along with a Christian witnessing replete with certainty.   Thanks to faith in the Risen Christ, thanks to his help, Christians can affirm with tenacity that "everyone can defeat evil with good.  Based on the certainty that evil will not prevail, Christians nourish an invincible hope" for promoting justice and peace and "building a better world", despite personal and social sins.  The Pope's concludes that "love is the only force capable of bringing fulfilment to persons and societies, the only force capable of directing the course of history in the way of goodness and peace." (no. 12)


The full English-language text of the Message is available on the Vatican web site.