by Art Laffin
Pax Christi USA Teacher of Peace
In his 2021 World Day of Peace Message, “A Culture of Care as a Path to Peace,” Pope Francis calls for a “culture of care” and urges the governments of the world to redirect military expenditures to meet the needs of those experiencing poverty and provide better health care health to their populations.
At the beginning of the message, Pope Francis writes: “The year 2020 was marked by the massive Covid-19 health crisis, which became a global phenomenon cutting across boundaries, aggravating deeply interrelated crises like those of the climate, food, the economy and migration, and causing great suffering and hardship…we have also seen a surge in various forms of nationalism, racism and xenophobia, and wars and conflicts that bring only death and destruction in their wake. These and other events that marked humanity’s path this past year have taught us how important it is to care for one another and for creation in our efforts to build a more fraternal society.”
In the message, which was officially made public on January 1, 2021, the Catholic feast day for the Solemnity of Mary, Mother of God, the pope laments the continuing violent conflicts around the world, saying that many places “can no longer remember a time when they dwelt in security and peace…We need to stop and ask ourselves what has led our world to see conflict as something normal, and how our hearts can be converted and our ways of thinking changed, in order to work for true peace in solidarity and fraternity.” On the same day the pope’s peace message was proclaimed to the world, the new National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA), which authorizes $740 billion be spent on the 2021 U.S. military budget, became law. The Senate overrode a presidential veto passing the NDAA which had been previously approved by the House of Representatives. Rep. Ro Khanna (D-CA) said in a December 28, 2020 Democracy Now interview that “Trump has vetoed the defense bill, which would be $740 billion. Now, his reasons for vetoing it are disingenuous. He wants to strip tech companies of Section 230 protections, which, if you strip them of that, would really hurt speech on the internet. This is not some thoughtful reform. The bottom line is, $740 billion is way too much defense spending…We’re spending money on the modernization of nuclear weapons. And we can’t find money to get food into people who need it? We can’t find money to get more rental assistance for folks who are going to face evictions? We can’t find money to get $2,000 into the pockets of Americans?
In a time of such urgent human need and peril in the U.S. and worldwide, the passage of the NDAA is an abomination–an affront to God and a colossal sin and crime! These exorbitant funds for the military budget should instead be used as a stimulus package to assist the poor of our country and world.
Tragically, the U.S. remains committed to being the single biggest military spender in the world. The U.S. has a military budget that is greater than the next ten countries combined: more than rivals like China and Russia, and more than allies like Saudi Arabia, the United Kingdom, and France.
This is the injustice that Pope Francis has in mind when he asks: “How many resources are spent on weaponry, especially nuclear weapons, that could be used for more significant priorities such as ensuring the safety of individuals, the promotion of peace and integral human development, the fight against poverty, and the provision of health care. Global problems like the present Covid-19 pandemic and climate change have only made these challenges all the more evident. What a courageous decision it would be to establish a ‘Global Fund’ with the money spent on weapons and other military expenditures, in order to permanently eliminate hunger and contribute to the development of the poorest countries.”
The new Poor Peoples Campaign-A National Call for Moral Revival, estimates that there were 140 million poor and low-income Americans prior to the pandemic. Since the pandemic, the ranks of the homeless and poor have dramatically increased in Washington, D.C. where I live and in many other parts of the U.S. How many more people have to suffer and die because of the idolatry of militarism and nuclearism? Jesus commands us to love our neighbor, stand for life wherever it is threatened, renounce all violence and killing, and be nonviolent peace and justice makers. Now is the time for all followers of Jesus to rise up and demand an end to this sinful misuse of resources for weapons, war, exploiting the earth’s resources and destroying the environment for profit, and political and economic domination! Clergy and laity of the Catholic church and of all denominations must demand that the U.S. convert its war economy to a peace economy, end the scourge of poverty, and ratify the UN Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons. Dr. King declared: “Our only hope lies in our ability to recapture the revolutionary spirit and go into a sometimes hostile world declaring eternal hostility to poverty, racism, and militarism.” I thank God for the many people and groups across the religious and political spectrum who are working tirelessly to challenge and resist a power structure rooted in White Supremacy, systemic racism, oppression, and violence, and are committed to bringing about racial, economic, environmental and social justice, peace and the Beloved Community. Among them are those who have made great sacrifices, including the Kings Bay Plowshares 7 (KBP7). Four members of the group are now serving prison sentences and one more will soon self-report to prison.
I pray the Pope’s 2021 World Day of Peace Message is read from every pulpit in the U.S. and that all Catholics will work to make his call to peace a reality.
Art Laffin is a member of the Dorothy Day Catholic Worker in Washington, D.C. and is author of a new edition of The Risk of the Cross and co-editor of Swords Into Plowshares.