Why do we need Dominican Commissions and Promoters of Justice and Peace?

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Why do we need Dominican Commissions and Promoters of Justice and Peace?
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For a long time, Justice and Peace has been a priority of the Dominican Order. Yet, despite this, mention of justice and peace so often evokes ambiguous reactions and even resistance!

Such reactions arise from a variety of negative attributes regarded as alien to Christian faith that people have come to associate with the discourse about Justice and Peace. For example:people in many places, and especially in Asia and Africa, often immediately associate it with

- political activism and even violence; or
- especially in Western Europe and Latin America, it is often associated with the 1960s liberal generation that many in the younger generation today reject; or
- especially in Eastern Europe, it is associated with the discourse of Communism; or
- in some places in North America, it is associated with a liberal pro-abortion agenda!
 
These negative associations have led many to call for a new name for the Church structures advocating for justice and peace. However, while we cannot refute the experience of people which has led to these negative associations, we have to guard ourselves against “throwing out the baby with the bath water”! For those of us who pray using the breviary every day, there is hardly a day that passes without the prayers of intercession including a prayer for justice and peace. If we change the name, what is to become of such prayers? So the challenge is to recover the evangelical discourse about justice and peace and to uncover the fullness of its meaning!
 
Our starting point therefore is to understand where the discourse about Justice and Peace fits into our Christian and Dominican vocation.
 
The Origins of Justice and Peace Discourse and Structures
 
The roots of this discourse lie in the reflections and documents of the Second Vatican Council (1962-1965). One of the most important documents emerging, the Pastoral Constitution on the Church in the Modern World, Gaudium et Spes, emphasised that “The Church is in the World for the transformation of the world.” (Gaudium et Spes, 1965: §40). This was a radical statement after millennia of the Church being identified with political power (enabled by the Roman Emperor Constantine in the fourth century). This, in turn, was followed by the Church turning in on itself in opposition to the world (after its persecution during the French Revolution at the end of the eighteenth century).
 
Soon after the Council, in 1967, Pope Paul VI established the Pontifical Council for Justice and Peace to remind the Church that work for justice and peace is fundamental to evangelisation.
 
All Bishops’ Conferences were instructed to establish a Justice and Peace Commission at Conference level, and all bishops were asked to establish Justice and Peace Commissions in their dioceses and in each parish. Many religious congregations too decided to establish Justice and Peace Commissions for themselves.
 
Then, in 1971, the Synod of Bishops on “Justice in the World” asserted that “Action on behalf of justice and participation in the transformation of the world …(are) a constitutive dimension of the preaching of the Gospel”. The centrality of work for justice for evangelisation continued to be stressed in the encyclicals or exhortations of all the recent popes. For example:
Pope John Paul II: Laborem Exercens; Sollicitudo Rei Socialis; Centesimus Annus.
Pope Benedict XVI:  Deus Caritas Est; Caritas in Veritate.
Pope Francis:  Evangelii Gaudium; Laudato Si.
 
This insistence on the centrality of justice and peace for evangelisation is rooted in Luke’s account of Jesus’ primary mission, which he proclaimed in the synagogue in Nazareth: “He has sent me
 
- To bring good news to the poor,
- To proclaim freedom to captives
- And to the blind new sight,
- To set the oppressed free,
- To proclaim the Lord’s year of favour” (Luke 4:18).
 
Thus Jesus came to “bring Good News”, which is the direct translation of “Evangelisation”. This good news, when unpacked, consists of:
- Economic Justice for the poor: The poor are deprived people who will only find full satisfaction (good news) when they sense that there is a fair distribution of wealth.
- Forgiveness and mercy for offenders (captives, prisoners, sinners,…).
- Healing for those afflicted (the blind, the disabled, the sick,…).
- Political Justice for the oppressed: Oppressed people are those whose power has been taken away. Since “politics” is “the way we organise power” (in relationships, in families, in Church, in communities, in countries, globally,…), oppressed people will only find freedom when they feel that they have a voice – a meaningful participation in the exercise of power.
 
Thus, when economic and political justice, healing, forgiveness and mercy are present, peace in our world, in our communities, in our relationships and in our hearts becomes possible and the Lord’s Year of Favour (the Kingdom of God) is among us!
 
Any discussion, then, about evangelisation (bringing Good News) without a focus on justice and peace, will be hollow as it will lack this constitutive element!
 
 
Mike Deeb OP

27 August, 2017