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The theme of Pope Benedict XVI’s 2012 Message for Peace is : Educating Young People in Justice and Peace.

As the communiqué from the Vatican on 1 January stated:

The theme engages an urgent need in the world today: to listen to and enhance the important role of new generations in the realization of the common good, and in the affirmation of a just and peaceful social order where fundamental human rights can be fully expressed and realized.

In fact, there is a duty incumbent upon the present generation to prepare future ones, and creating for them the conditions that will allow these future generations to express freely and responsibly the urgency for a new world.

Context and audience

Pope Benedict chooses an image from Psalm 130 to set the context and identify those he is particularly addressing in this Year’s World Day of Peace message.

The Psalmist says that people of faith wait for the Lord “more than those who watch for the morning” (v. 6); they wait for him with firm hope because they know that he will bring light, mercy, salvation … Because this expectation is particularly powerful and evident in young people, my thoughts turn to them and to the contribution which they can and must make to society. (# 1)

The Pope then addresses parents, families and all those involved in the education and formation of young people.

The challenge he puts to families and leaders is to be attentive to young people, to listen to them and appreciate them, ‘… for the sake of building a future of justice and peace.

He names the concerns of young people and their desire to build a better world.

The concerns expressed in recent times by many young people around the world demonstrate that they desire to look to the future with solid hope. At the present time, they are experiencing apprehension about many things: they want to receive an education which prepares them more fully to deal with the real world, they see how difficult it is to form a family and to find stable employment; they wonder if they can really contribute to political, cultural and economic life in order to build a society with a more human and fraternal face. (# 1)


Pope Benedict calls on the young to be open to learning and on adults to give of themselves in the work of education.

For this reason, today more than ever we need authentic witnesses, and not simply people who parcel out rules and facts; we need witnesses capable of seeing farther than others because their life is so much broader. A witness is someone who first lives the life that he proposes to others. (# 2)

The Pope also affirms the primacy of the family and parents as the first educators of their children. He acknowledges the difficulties that families face in these times and calls on political leaders to give assistance to families and educational institutions to enable them to carry out their duty of education of the young.

The Pope offers this challenge to educational institutions:

Every educational setting can be a place of openness to the transcendent and to others; a place of dialogue, cohesiveness and attentive listening, where young people feel appreciated for their personal abilities and inner riches, and can learn to esteem their brothers and sisters. May young people be taught to savour the joy which comes from the daily exercise of charity and compassion towards others and from taking an active part in the building of a more humane and fraternal society. (# 2)

Educating in Truth and Freedom

For Pope Benedict, the fundamental question that must be asked is about the identity of human beings as seekers of truth, made in the image of God.

The grateful recognition that life is an inestimable gift, then, leads to the discovery of one’s own profound dignity and the inviolability of every single person. (# 3)

The first step in education, then, is learning to recognise the Creator’s image in every human being, and consequently learning to have a profound respect for every person and helping others to live a life consonant with this supreme dignity.

The understanding of freedom is in relation to other people and to God.

The right use of freedom, then, is central to the promotion of justice and peace, which require respect for oneself and others, including those whose way of being and living differs greatly from one’s own. (# 3)

Educating in Justice

Pope Benedict stresses the important of not detaching justice from its transcendent roots.

Justice, indeed, is not simply a human convention, since what is just is ultimately determined not by positive law, but by the profound identity of the human being. (# 4)

Returning to an earlier theme of ‘thirsting for justice’, thePope links this to the Beatitudes and to the notion of justice as being in ‘right relationship’ with all people and with all of creation.

“Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they shall be satisfied” (Mt 5:6). They shall be satisfied because they hunger and thirst for right relations with God, with themselves, with their brothers and sisters, and with the whole of creation. (# 4)

Educating in Peace

Peace is not just the absence of war; it is inseparable from working for the common good, respect for the dignity of persons and peoples and for the practice of fraternity.

Peace, however, is not merely a gift to be received: it is also a task to be undertaken. In order to be true peacemakers, we must educate ourselves in compassion, solidarity, working together, fraternity, in being active within the community and concerned to raise awareness about national and international issues and the importance of seeking adequate mechanisms for the redistribution of wealth, the promotion of growth, cooperation for development and conflict resolution. (# 5)

Raising One’s Eyes to God

The Pope concludes his message with a reminder that it is not ideologies that save the world but a return to the Living God. He concludes with encouragement for young people to take up the challenge of working for justice and peace.

Dear young people, you are a precious gift for society. Do not yield to discouragement in the face of difficulties and do not abandon yourselves to false solutions which often seem the easiest way to overcome problems. Do not be afraid to make a commitment, to face hard work and sacrifice, to choose the paths that demand fidelity and constancy, humility and dedication. Be confident in your youth and its profound desires for happiness, truth, beauty and genuine love! Live fully this time in your life so rich and so full of enthusiasm. (# 6)

For reflection

For discussion


Australian Catholic Bishops Conference Social Justice Sunday Statement 2009,And You Will Be My Witnesses:Young people and justice.

J Ferguson, H Kearins, D Brennan, Reading the Signs of the Times: A basic introduction to Catholic social teaching. Catholic Social Justice Series No. 70, Australian Catholic Social Justice Council (2011).


God of Truth and Justice,
you call us to live in right relationship with you
with one anotherand with all of creation.
Made in your image, we thirst for justice.
Distracted by false images
we seek material goods and artificial status.
We do not use your creation fairly or well.
Open the minds of this adult generation
to see the destruction caused by greed.
Let us not hold back from seeing
the hardship of others caused by the unfair distribution of earth’s resources.
May we acknowledge our part in this misery,
and take whatever steps we can to change it.
Open the hearts of young people
to also see a true picture of the world we live in.
May they have courageous and honest teachers
to assist them to see what is happening in their world,
locally, nationally and globally.
May they learn to make sound judgements
and, together with others animated by Jesus, the Just One,
Take action to bring the world to the peace and justice you desire for it.
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