Franciscan Sister Kathleen Murphy reflects on Pope Francis’ Monthly Prayer Intention for January.
In 1968 Pope Paul VI instituted January 1 as World Day of Peace. We continue to mark the beginning of the year with prayers for peace around the world. Pope Francis shows his desire that we prolong this prayer throughout the month as he gives us the following intention: We pray that Christians, followers of other religions, and all people of goodwill may promote peace and justice in the world.
The Holy Father gives us his own example as he has stated for some time that he wishes to visit Iraq in 2020. This is his continuing desire despite security concerns. He has also fearlessly called out Western hypocrisy for claiming to promote peace while selling weapons abroad. Why does Pope Francis wish to go to Iraq? Perhaps because the people there must so long for peace and therefore also thirst for justice. As Pope Paul VI said so long ago, “If you want peace, then work for justice.” The two most certainly go hand in hand.
How do we become promoters of peace and justice? We can take some first steps by accepting all whom we meet. Do turbans or head scarves, the kippah or yarmulke, orange robes or cassocks engender fear, dislike or rejection? Can we summon the courage and charity to overcome fear of what and who are unknown so that we can communicate a stance of justice and a longing for peace? Sometimes we get lost in the idea that we are just one person and cannot orchestrate change in any effective way. The following story challenges that stance.
In 2004 Victor Yushchenko ran for the presidency of the Ukraine. Vehemently opposed by the ruling party Yushchenko almost lost his life when he was mysteriously poisoned. This was not enough to deter him from standing for the presidency.
On the day of the election Yushchenko was comfortably in the lead. The ruling party, not to be denied, tampered with the results. The state-run television station reported “ladies and gentlemen, we announce that the challenger Victor Yushchenko has been decisively defeated.” In the lower right-hand corner of the screen a woman by the name of Natalia Dmitruk was providing a translation service for the deaf community. As the news presenter regurgitated the lies of the regime, Natalia Dmitruk refused to translate them. “I’m addressing all the deaf citizens of Ukraine” she signed. “They are lying and I’m ashamed to translate those lies. Yushchenko is our president.”
The deaf community sprang into gear. They text messaged their friends about the fraudulent result and as news spread of Dmitruk’s act of defiance increasing numbers of journalists were inspired to likewise tell the truth. Over the coming weeks the “Orange Revolution” occurred as a million people wearing orange made their way to the capital city of Kiev demanding a new election. The government was forced to meet their demands, a new election was held and Victor Yushchenko became president.
Philip Yancey writes “When I heard the story behind the orange revolution, the image of a small screen of truth in the corner of the big screen became for me an ideal picture of the Church. You see we as a church do not control the big screen. Though the world includes many poor people, they rarely make the magazine covers or the news shows. Instead we focus on the super rich, names like Bill Gates or Oprah Winfrey. Then, like the sign language translator in the lower right-hand corner of the screen, along comes a person named Jesus who says in effect, Don’t believe the big screen—they’re lying. It’s the poor who are blessed, not the rich. Mourners are blessed too, as well as those who hunger and thirst, and the persecuted. Those who go through life thinking they’re on the top end up on the bottom. And those who go through life feeling they’re on the bottom end up on the top. After all, what does it profit a person to gain the whole world and lose his soul?” Philip Yancey, What Good Is God, pages 184-186.
What a story of empowerment and courage, thirst for justice and longing for peace! Can we find a spot for ourselves in the corner of the big screen of life? Our prayerful and unyielding plea for justice can become that small corner of the screen from which we work, pray and build just and peaceful foundations through our teaching, healing, listening and journeying with all of God’s children. For who doesn’t seek justice and long for peace?