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A Plea For Peace

A Plea For Peace
Pastoral Instruction of the Catholic Bishops of Rhodesia
28 November 1965

The daily increasing requests made to us your bishops for pastoral direction in these confused times urge us to address this Instruction to you, members of the Church in Rhodesia.
What we have to say to you is of a pastoral nature and must not be construed otherwise. We have no intention of intruding into the field of party politics. This we already made clear long ago in our Joint Pastoral Statement “Peace through Justice”, when we said: “Legitimacy of power is not bound up by providence with any one form of government or with any political party. Catholics, like other citizens, have full liberty to prefer one form of government to another, or one political party to another, provided these are not contrary to the rule of right reason or to the maxims of Christian teaching.” This should be abundantly clear to all.
Since we returned from Rome, we have made exhaustive enquiries regarding the reaction of our people to recent events in this country. From our investigation it is clear to us that they are so terribly perplexed and confused as a result of the state in which Rhodesia finds itself today, that only a courageous reassessment of the whole situation by all parties involved can provide a peaceful and permanent solution to our present problems. We cannot go on as things are, with two different authorities claiming to be the lawful government, with the people divided in their loyalties, and with danger of the present uneasy situation having the most appalling repercussions, not only here and in other parts of Africa, but throughout the entire world.
We appeal, therefore, to all those immediately concerned, to come together as quickly as possible in a spirit of charity devoid of recrimination, and to try to resolve their differences with realism, understanding and unselfishness, before it is too late.
However difficult the prospect of success in such an effort, we ourselves are convinced that it is still possible to achieve it, and that by united and genuine determination to build up a truly Christian order of society in this country, the inestimable gift of peace will be possible for all of us, as well as the prosperity which flows from it.
To let things drift is dangerous. Passions have been aroused, personal political preferences are so keenly felt, past grievances are so vivid, and the future so obscure, that humanly speaking it is impossible otherwise to reconcile the conflicting views, held in Rhodesia today.
In the meantime, to prevent the further growth of bitterness and to prepare the way for understanding we must presume good faith even in those with whom we profoundly disagree, and while we may attempt to form their consciences to what we believe to be right, we must nevertheless respect the freedom of the individual conscience and look on it as sacrosanct. It may perhaps be more profitable for each of us to look fearlessly into our own hearts and try to find out if we who profess the law of Christ – which is the law of love of God and of neighbour – really try to observe it in our own lives.
Another thing, which is quite clear to us is this: Vast numbers of the people of Rhodesia are bitterly opposed to the unilateral declaration of independence made recently. They are particularly angered that it should be stated publicly that this action was taken in the name of preserving Christian civilisation in this country. It is simply quite untrue to say that the masses are content with this recent decision or that they have consented by their silence. Their silence is the silence of fear, of disappointment, of hopelessness. It is a dangerous silence; dangerous for the Church, for all of us.
It comes as no surprise, therefore, that many are saying, “So this is Christian civilisation! This is what Christianity is! – the preservation of privilege for the few and well-to-do, and the neglect of the many who have nothing!” They also say, “It seems as if we have been deceived by the exponents of Christianity, the missionaries. These have come here only to prepare the way for the racist state where we shall remain permanently the hewers of wood and drawers of water, and where a favoured handful can control and delay our development indefinitely. Can our bishops do nothing except tell us to be meek and patient? How long must this go on?”
This is a frightening problem which faces us today, a problem which need never have arisen had Rhodesians of all races had the good sense to trust to constitutional means for the achieving of their ends, inspired by Christian courage and a Christian sense of justice.
The function of the Church is not political, rather it is so to influence men’s minds by the teaching of Our Divine Lord, that they shall learn to live together peacefully as members of the one human family bound together in the solidarity of creation and redemption. The conscious acknowledgement of such brotherhood enables us to say with real meaning, “Our Father,” and alone will enable us to face the future together, with confidence and with clear conscience.
The function of the State, as the administrative arm of the nation, is to serve all the people, without favouring one group more than another, working to achieve that complex of conditions in which all men, irrespective of race, religion or political affiliation, can live as fully accepted members of society, having equal opportunity of access to all those things which promote their full development. If it fails in this, it can only provoke discontent and even anarchy, because God’s will for society has been violated. 
As we have already clearly stated in Peace through Justice – “An immoral state of affairs exists when nationalism or race or economics or any other similar thing becomes the dominant norm of behaviour and is placed above man, considered as an individual or as a group.” There is no place in Christianity, properly understood, for such a situation, and the political theory which professes to uphold Christian and western civilisation by upholding exclusiveness and the privilege of the few, makes a hideous mockery of those words. More than that, when such iniquitous policies are preached and put into practice, they are uniquely calculated to turn a whole people away from Christianity, and to throw them in their disillusionment with the Christian faith, into the danger of godlessness itself.
We have pointed out to you before the command of our Divine Lord to imitate His own example of love, yet few have had the faith and courage to face up to the challenge. Here let us say it again: According to our Christian faith, all principles of division, all national and cultural particularities, all social, political and religious differentiations are meant to be subordinated to the overall unity achieved by Christ. “You are all children of God by faith in Christ Jesus… There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither bond nor free, there is neither male nor female. For you are all one in Christ Jesus” (Gal. 5,36). Whosoever, therefore, deliberately despises this disposition of God for His human creatures, is guilty of a grave act of dishonour to the Almighty and must be considered to sin grievously.
It is on such startling truths of the Christian faith that western civilisation was built up, and its idea of law established. It is only by the personal and practical recognition of the dignity of the individual, no matter what his origin or degree of social development, that civilisation as we know it, can truly be defended. Without such recognition, society degenerates into the blind brutality of mob law or the secret savagery of the police state, where no one can trust his neighbour, where men are reduced to fearful silence or speak only in riddles, where freedom of expression is shackled, the privacy of communication destroyed, and doubt and suspicion creep into the very family circle itself.
Western civilisation, moreover, has rightly insisted on the need for a juridical constitution as an effective instrument for the preservation of the principles on which it is founded. In this century, the awful tragedy of wars has convulsed the world in anguish, because of the neglect or disregard of such an instrument. As long ago as 1942, the late Pope Pius XII spoke words that are relevant even here today when he said:
“The modern idea of justice is often corrupted by a positivist and utilitarian theory and practice, subservient to the interests of particular groups, sections, movements; the course of legislation and the administration of justice being dictated by their policies. This state of affairs can be remedied only by awakening the human conscience to the need of a juridical constitution based upon God’s sovereign Lordship and immune from human caprice; a constitution which will use its coercive authority to protect the inviolable rights of man against the aggression of any human power…

This supposes:

(a)    a tribunal and a judge taking their direction from law clearly defined;

(b)    clear legal principles which cannot be upset by unwarranted appeals to a supposed popular sentiment or by merely utilitarian considerations;

(c)    the recognition of the principle that the State also, and the officials and organisations dependent upon the State, are under the obligation of revising and withdrawing such measures as are incompatible with the liberty, the honour, the advancement or the welfare of individuals.” (Christmas Message).

Every word of this injunction of the Holy Father is worthy of consideration. It indicates quite clearly that a juridical constitution is of such moment for the well-being of a nation, that not only must it be acceptable to those who are governed, but it has such quality of permanence about it that it cannot lightly be set aside in order to make way for another.
Another thing on which civilisation as we know it is based is the oath and the sanctity of the oath. Unless men can be assured of the validity and inviolable quality of the word they give and have accepted among themselves in affairs of great moment, society itself is supremely placed in jeopardy. We consider it our duty to remind all our people, and particularly those in positions of authority, of the grave nature of a deliberate promise made to God and of the obligations in conscience deriving from it.
We mention these matters because it is our duty to enunciate moral principles for the benefit of our people. It is also our duty to do all in our power to promote and preserve public order. Public order is such a great good that people must be prepared even to suffer the diminution of their rights for a time, in order that it be preserved. Experience all too clearly shows that violence or revolution even if it be in defence of citizens’ rights generally results in still graver harm to the common good than is involved in any abuse of power.
The point is of first importance here in our present circumstances, when the godless forces of great world powers insidiously foment disorder and solicit with specious arguments the allegiance of dissatisfied millions who, at this moment, feel themselves despised and uncared for. With all the authority which we command, we exhort our long-suffering and patient people to resist in a spirit of faith and of loyalty to the Church, the blandishments of those who would urge them to anarchy, only to enslave them thereafter to such barbarism as they have never known or thought possible.
With the same authority we deny all use of violence and command you to abstain from it, no matter how serious the provocation. The mission of Christ’s Church is the mission of Our Lord Himself, a mission of peace, of reconciliation, of bringing men through practical acknowledgement of Him who is their Father, to a daily humble acknowledgement of all other men who are their brothers through creation and redemption.
How can we possibly profess to be followers of Christ if we do not try to respect one another and care for one another? Our Lord’s words are quite unmistakable on this point. They are both a warning and a programme of action: “The mark by which all men will know you for my disciples will be the love you bear one another” (John 14:35). He even goes farther; He identifies Himself with our fellow-man; asks us to recognise in him this sacrament of our redeemed human nature which He Himself bore; tells us that He will take as done to Himself, what we do or deny to our fellow-man – His brother. Hear his words again and take up in daily duty the challenge that they offer in these confused times: “As long as you did it to one of these my least brethren you did it to me.”
It is not a question of words only, of talking, of mouthing professions of brotherhood; it is a question of doing, of acting. And God knows there is plenty of opportunity about us for exercising practical charity here in Rhodesia. In spite of undoubted progress in many fields of social endeavour during recent years, in spite of vast sums spent on education, medical services, housing, agriculture, and the rest, there is still so much left to be done. Look at the inequitable distribution of land in this country; the scandal of those working conditions in which normal family life is made impossible; the often-inadequate wages paid to servants; the humiliations of discriminatory legislation, the inequality of opportunity in education. Examine these things and judge if we can ever be a united and happy people while they remain. We hear much about rights these days, but little about our responsibilities as a supposedly Christian people.
We surely have the simple but all-important responsibility of at least trying to know one another if we to hope to live together now and in the years to come. Yet after all this time, the two major groups of Rhodesians, the Africans and the Europeans, have made little significant contact. They converse very little with one another and not only convention, but also the very laws of the country themselves, preclude any immediate hope of their achieving greater understanding. In fact the possibility of such an attempt at mutual comprehension grows daily more remote.
In Christ’s teaching alone, and in its constant practice about us, can we have any hope for the future. Not only is this true of each of us as individuals, but it is of immense importance to those who exercise political power and claim to be Christian. The complicated problem of racial harmony in this country is one not simply of social adjustment but of social justice. It is essentially a moral problem, and this is why we the Bishops have a right and a duty to speak about it, in season and out of season.
But this great problem can be solved if we will but make a united and serious effort to try to relate our conduct to our creed and to be Christian in fact and not in name only. These are momentous times in the history of this country. Grave provocation has been given to very many people. Their hurt must be assuaged. They must be given hope, their legitimate grievances must be examined fairly and with genuine desire to remove them. It is simply courting disaster and building up massive resentment for the years ahead to offer temporary palliatives, or to try to reduce to silence the voices of those who speak piteously pleading against the indignity of being regarded as second-class citizens, of being governed with mere token representation, of being made to feel that theirs is a permanent position of inferiority with little hope.
All this we long ago expounded for you in greater detail in our Joint Pastoral Letter, Peace through Justice. It is a shameful comment on us all that the outside world can tell us, as they have recently done in the press, that the Catholics of Rhodesia do not seem to have heard the message.

We beg of you all to make a new effort to accept the challenge which the Gospel of Our Divine Lord presents to you; to take His words seriously; to try to understand one another; to respect one another, and in a spirit of sorrow for past neglect, Magdalene-like to break in prodigal profusion the precious balm of your brotherly love about the feet of your neighbour – Christ.

  • Francis Markall S.J., Archbishop of Salisbury
  • Aloysius Haene, S.M.B., Bishop of Gwelo
  • Adolph Schmitt, C.M.M., Bishop of Bulawayo
  • Donal R. Lamont, O. Carm., Bishop of Umtali
  • Ignatius Prieto, S.M.I., Bishop of Wankie