April 11, 2003 – 40th Year of Pacem in Terris / Martyrs’ Day of the Diocese of Kidapawan/
Prayer Rally for Peace of the Diocese of the Kidapawan

GESTURES OF PEACE … A CULTURE OF PEACE
Bishop Romulo Valles

My Dear people of God:
In these very difficult around the world and in the Diocese of Kidapawan, when war and armed confrontations continue to dominate; when fears and tears are ever present; when anger and hunger, death and diseases stalk countless families everywhere; when life is constantly threatened and its worth diminished; despair and hopeless seem to grip us, all because we do not have peace.
For decades now, suffering has continued to plague us here in Mindanao, for peace has not settled in our land.
Perhaps many of us have been drawn to taking up arms in our desire to bring about peace. It was perhaps in desperation that we yielded to the temptation to take the path of war to achieve peace.
But even in the midst of these difficulties and suffering, we are also aware of our precious identity as God’s children, and that we are men and women of faith. And being God’s children and being men and women of faith, we are to live together in peace. We are to be peacemakers. Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called children of God. [Mt. 5.9]
These days, I invited us to sincerely and deeply examine ourselves if we have indeed lived up to the challenges that our identity and faith have set before us, as we dream of work of peace.
One of the most inspiring insights I have come across recently is our Holy Father’s Message on the World Day of Peace [January 1, 2003, no. 9]. He says:
“In the end, peace is not essentially about structures but about people. Certain structures and mechanisms of peace — juridical, political, economic — are of course necessary and do exist, but they have been derived from other the accumulated wisdom and experience of innumerable gestures of peace made by men and women throughout history who have kept hope and have given in to discouragement. Gestures of peace spring from the lives of people who foster peace first of all in their own hearts. They are the work of the heart and of reason in those who are peacemakers. ( cf. Mt. 5:9 ). Gestures of peace are possible when people appreciate fully the community dimension of their lives, so that they grasp the meaning and consequences of events in their own communities and in the world. Gestures of peace create a traditional and a culture of peace.
Religion has a vital role in fostering gestures of peace and in consolidating conditions for peace. It exercise this role all the more effectively if it concentrates on what is proper to it: attention to God, the fostering of universal brotherhood and the spreading of a culture of human solidarity.
My brothers and sisters, this is my wish and prayer for peace one of us: that we be counted among those men and women throughout history who have kept hope and have not given in to discouragement in taking the path of peace; men and women committed to gestures of peace; men and women dedicated to nurturing the culture of peace.
It behaves us then to refrain from gestures and positions that we are far from being gestures of peace. We stay away from positions that demean gestures of peace such as “peace talks are useless and hopeless” and the like. We stay away from armed confrontations and the use of force to resolve conflicts. We stay away from every possible manipulation and propaganda that set up a stage of despair thus prevailing upon us to believe that war, armed confrontation is the only path to peace.
That is why, we are very much opposed to the holding of the Balikatan Exercises here in Cotabato. As we read closely the realities of our present situation here in the Diocese, a war exercise, such as the Balikatan Exercise, is far from being a gestures of peace. Being a war exercise, it glorifies, by its very nature, the war approach to peace. We do not agree with this.
To be at the negotiation table, to participate in peace talks with renewed vigor, fresh patience and firm determination, are, I am convinced, truly gestures of peace.
We urgently need this gestures of peace: we strongly encourage the parties concerned to go back to the negotiation table. Go back soon and head for peace with firm determination. We urgently need this gestures of peace. Not Balikatan!
We urgently need this gestures of peace: we loudly call on everyone, particularly those in authorities, to listen to the continuing cries and see the miserable plight of our people in the evacuation centers where fear, hunger, death, diseases, hopelessness, and trampling of human dignity abound. Listen to them and let them go back home soon. We urgently need this gesture of peace. Not Balikatan!
We urgently need this gestures of peace: we deeply plead to the parties concerned to declare a ceasefire! The horrible human casualty and the enormous destruction to property leave terrible anguish and further impoverish our people. Silence the guns! Listen to human voices pleading for peace. We urgently need this gesture of peace. Not Balikatan!
Brothers and sisters, let me end with this very first line of Pope John XXIII’s famous Encyclical Letter Pacem in Terris, spoken exactly forty years ago today [Pacem in Terris, published on April 11, 1963]: “Peace on earth, which all men of every era have most eagerly yearned for, can be firmly established and sustained only if the order laid down by God be dutifully observed.” [cf. Introduction, Pacem in Terris (Peace on Earth)]
Together, let us pray for peace:
 
God our Father,
your Word, Jesus Christ, spoke peace to a sinful world
and brought mankind the gift of reconciliation
by the suffering and death he endured.
Teach us, the people who bear his name,
to follow the example he gave us:
may our faith, hope and charity
turn hatred to love, conflict to peace, death to eternal life.
We ask this through Christ our Lord. Amen
[alternative Opening Prayer/ Fourth Sunday of Lent]

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