Peace Be With You
In these early moments of the New Year we reflect on how we’ve moved from darkness into light, having prayed our way through Advent, having celebrated the birth of Jesus Christ. Now we must find ways to birth Christ again and again in our daily lives throughout the year as we follow the way of this Prince of Peace. Think of the many ways teachers support peace building in our world. What a task! You educate the hearts as well as the minds of those you teach in the way you personally model following Jesus, the subjects you teach, and in the ways you incorporate the values of Catholic social teaching in classroom activities, discussion, and conduct. In answer to why it is important to invest in education in general, Saraya Saddeed, executive director of Help the Afghan Children which provides clinics, education, and humanitarian aid in Afghanistan responds, “The rate of return is a world of peace for tomorrow.” Think of the return on investing in Catholic social teaching values in our classrooms! Imagine the benefits of providing our children a language of the heart, a language that seeks peace. Think how we increase the possibility of peace on earth as we make an intentional, Spirit-led search for the roots of violence in our world and seek means of addressing that violence and uprooting it from our lives. We are providing the tools to plant the seeds of peace and to harvest the just rewards.
January offers teachers many opportunities to discuss peacemaking. From Pope Benedict’s World Day for Peace Message, to National Migration Week, to honoring Martin Luther King Jr.’s legacy of nonviolence, to the Day of Penance regarding the right to life, to the anniversary of Gandhi’s death we find many openings to draw students into conversations and/or projects revolving around peace. What is peace? How can we help build peace in this world?
As Pope Benedict points out and addresses so clearly in his World Peace Day Message In Truth, Peace http://www.paxjoliet.org/news/pope_world_day_peace_2006.htm “peace cannot be reduced to the simple absence of armed conflict…” There are many ways in which young people can immerse themselves in the work of peace and many role models in our communities, our country, our faith tradition, and the world. How can we help them develop their peacebuilding skills? How can we expand their understanding of peace?
Calendar (adapted from Center of Concerns www.coc.org ) January is also designated Poverty in America Awareness Month by the Catholic Campaign for Human Development (http://www.usccb.org/cchd/povertyusa/povamer.shtml)
Discuss the broader meaning of peace and the root causes of oppression and violence in our world. Develop the concept that peace is not just the absence of armed conflict as noted in Pope Benedict’s message. How does poverty keep us from the fullness of peace? How does racial or gender discrimination hinder peace? How do we as individuals and nations contribute to violence in our lives? How does Jesus call us to live peacefully? Can your students come up with a working definition of peace and peacebuilding? Can we use the core values of Catholic social teaching to articulate such a definition? (list of seven core values may be found at http://www.paxjoliet.org/justeach/justeach2.html ) Can paying attention to these values help us ‘prepare for peace?’
Peacemakers as Mentors: Consider having your students choose a ‘mentor’ for the month of January. Have them read Dorothy Day, Martin Luther King Jr., Gandhi, Mairead Corrigan Maguire, or someone else deeply committed to the way of peace. What values of Catholic social teaching do we see at work in these people? How might their ‘way’ of making peace be followed today in our own lives? Does the person speak to your heart? If so, what might you do to honor their voice? Can you frame your answers using the core values of Catholic social teaching? (See the links in the resource section of this article if you are looking for more peacemakers from which to choose.)
Or choose a peacemaker from your local community to shadow for day or weekend and journal responses to the work you’ve witnessed. Interview your peacemaker for a series of classroom profiles to share with one another and the school. Again, be sure to use the language of Catholic social teaching to articulate what you’ve learned.
Reflection activity: In paragraph 16 of In Truth, Peace, Pope Benedict writes: “when we hear the Gospel, dear brothers and sisters, we learn to build peace on the truth of a daily life inspired by the commandment of love.” Ask your students how peace is related to love? Ask “What Gospel message motivates you to live out the commandment of love?” Have them think of their own favorite passages, and ask what do they say to you regarding your call to love? Choose the one that speaks to you deeply at this moment. Do any of the core values of Catholic social teaching resonate for you within this passage? What questions does it raise for you regarding the world in which we live? How might you live out your life in this moment to be an answer to this question?
In an expanded project following this reflection, students might keep a reflection journal on the Sunday readings for a month. Perhaps their reflections will reveal actions that they or their school group could take now or in the future.
Classroom discussion on Pope Benedict’s Peace Day message
For those with access to the Center of Concerns educational site, use the reflection questions at www.educationforjustice.org to break open this message together. In addition to following the site’s reflection questions, point out to the students how this document, like other Catholic social teaching documents, is rooted in scripture and builds upon other documents from our tradition.. As easily seen in the footnotes, Pope Benedict refers to previous popes’ writings going back as far as 1917 and those as recent as 2004.
Peacemaking survey: What are the signs of the times telling your students about the need for peacebuilding activities in their homes, their communities, their churches, and their schools? Whose cries do they hear? What class or club project might they initiate to address these needs? What would be needed in terms of resources? Consider spiritual resources, financial resources, and people with needed skills. Whose needs would be met? What is the time frame? Would this be an ongoing project? Short term? Yearly? How would it fit into the work of peace? See the link for Peacebuilders Initiative in the resources and check out both their Peace Projects and Peace Project Ideas to start your students reflecting on possible activities.
Art Project: Dorothy Day liked to quote Dostoyevsky saying “Beauty will save the world.” Don’t underestimate the power of the arts to help your students articulate their vision of peace. January 8-14 is National Migration Week. Check out the USCCB website section on Journey to Justice and its suggested projects and activities at http://www.usccb.org/mrs/nmw/educational.shtml In addition consider an art project to illustrate the various “Borders of Our Hearts.” We live in a time of suspicion and fear of others. People talk of building walls between our country and Mexico for instance. Those who reach out to help people dying of thirst or illness as they try to cross borders risk lengthy sentences in return for their desire to follow Jesus’ teachings and offer humanitarian aid to their sisters and brothers. In addition to those activities on the above site, students could undertake an art project to illustrate the borders of our hearts. Are they open, inviting and drawing people into the center of Christ’s commandment to love one another? Are they closed, turned in on themselves and dying from the lack of such love? Let students choose their way of illustrating this principle or hand out art paper with one or two large hearts printed on the page and see the variety of artistic response. Perhaps students could find music to communicate the state of these borders of the heart as well.
Prayer Peace Pieces offers a prayer based on the nonviolence of Jesus and also provides links to other prayers.http://www.ipj-ppj.org/Reflections%20-%20Advocacy%20Suggestions%20-%20Lesson%20Plans/Prayer%20Service%20on%20the%20Nonviolence%20of%20Jesus.htm
For a working definition of peacebuilding check out http://www.peacedirect.org/projects/grassrootspeacebuilding.html
Books that teachers and older students might enjoy:
I’d Rather Teach Peace by Colman McCarthy
The Vision of Peace:Faith and Hope in Northern Irelandby Mairead Corrigan Maguire
PeaceJam:How Young People Can Make Peace In Their Schools and Communities by Darcy Gifford
Institute for Peace material
http://www.ipj-ppj.org/Reflections%20-%20Advocacy%20Suggestions%20-%20Lesson%20Plans/MLKs%20Call.htm In this issue of the Institute for Justice newsletter Jim McGinnis offers Helping Families Respond to Dr. King’s Call
http://www.ipj-ppj.org/Resource%20Pages/peacemaking%20post%209-11%20High%20School.htm Peace Pieces features the book If Only Today You Knew….The Things that Make for Peace For Christian High Schools and Youth Groups by James McGinnis with Kevin LaNave.
http://www.pbs.org/wnet/religionandethics/teachers/plans.html The PBS website for the program Religion and Ethics offers various levels of lesson plans exploring a range of topics including just war theory, altruism, diversity and immigration. While not targeting a specifically Catholic audience, the plans could be easily adapted to draw upon discussion of the values of Catholic social teaching and their role in exploring the issue at hand. It also offers “Teacher Resources,” a link to other sites, a few of which may be new to you.
For a look at peacemakers at work in our world, check out the following sites:
http://www.paxjoliet.org/peacemaker_profiles/ The Joliet Diocese offers a variety of peacemaking activities through the lives of these activists.
http://www.paxchristiusa.org Pax Christi website features many peace workers
http://www.peacebuildersinitiative.org See what high school students are doing in the Chicago area through this Bernardin Center project at Catholic Theological Union. Check out the projects and project ideas on the site as well as other offerings.
http://www.hrusa.org/store/EffectivePractices.doc Effective Practices for Infusing Human Rights and Peace Education at the Elementary Level offers many suggestions for activities and projects at various grade levels
http://.peacejam.org offers suggestions on linking high school students with work of various Nobel Laureates, has links and biographies http://www.peacepeople.com/index.html Irish site includes biographies of modern peacemakers from around the world
http://www.cultivatingpeace.ca/peacemakers/nosweat.html See what high schools in Canada have done. Has links, curriculum suggestions etc.
As we enter into this New Year, I give thanks to our God of Peace for the good work you do. Teaching really is a sacred mission. May your students grow in their understanding of Peace. The gift you give this generation of students is a gift to all humanity. May God bless you and keep you, may you see the face of Christ in each student and find your teaching echoed in the love they offer others in their lives no matter what career path they may choose.
Blessings, Colette Wisnewski