One of the most useful document of Pope Benedict’s pontificate is his 2006 Message for the World Day of Peace. He had been elected in April 2005 and this Message was therefore one of the first things he did. The Message was officially signed 8 December. Think about him working on something like this around the time when he was also working on his famous address to the Roman Curia at the end of 2005.
In his 2006 Message Benedict discusses the threat to peace offered from extreme positions, atheistic materialism and, on the other hand, religious fanaticism. Without question he had in mind Islamic extremism.
8. Here I wish to express gratitude to the international organizations and to all those who are daily engaged in the application of international humanitarian law. Nor can I fail to mention the many soldiers engaged in the delicate work of resolving conflicts and restoring the necessary conditions for peace. [Military intervention is sometimes necessary to clear obstacles to peace.]I wish to remind them of the words of the Second Vatican Council: ”All those who enter the military in service to their country should look upon themselves as guardians of the security and freedom of their fellow-countrymen, and, in carrying out this duty properly, they too contribute to the establishment of peace”. On this demanding front the Catholic Church’s military ordinariates carry out their pastoral activity: I encourage both the military Ordinaries and military chaplains to be, in every situation and context, faithful heralds of the truth of peace.
9. Nowadays, the truth of peace continues to be dramatically compromised and rejected by terrorism, whose criminal threats and attacks leave the world in a state of fear and insecurity. My predecessors Paul VI and John Paul II frequently pointed out the awful responsibility borne by terrorists, while at the same time condemning their senseless and deadly strategies. These are often the fruit of a tragic and disturbing nihilism which Pope John Paul II described in these words: ”Those who kill by acts of terrorism actually despair of humanity, of life, of the future. In their view, everything is to be hated and destroyed”. Not only nihilism, but also religious fanaticism, today often labeled fundamentalism, can inspire and encourage terrorist thinking and activity. From the beginning, John Paul II was aware of the explosive danger represented by fanatical fundamentalism, and he condemned it unsparingly, while warning against attempts to impose, rather than to propose for others freely to accept, one’s own convictions about the truth. [NB: An important key to understanding Benedict’s approach to pretty much everything: propose, don’t impose.] As he wrote: ”To try to impose on others by violent means what we consider to be the truth is an offence against the dignity of the human being, and ultimately an offence against God in whose image he is made”.
10. Looked at closely, nihilism and the fundamentalism of which we are speaking share an erroneous relationship to truth: the nihilist denies the very existence of truth, while the fundamentalist claims to be able to impose it by force. Despite their different origins and cultural backgrounds, both show a dangerous contempt for human beings and human life, and ultimately for God himself. Indeed, this shared tragic outcome results from a distortion of the full truth about God: nihilism denies God’s existence and his provident presence in history, while fanatical fundamentalism disfigures his loving and merciful countenance, replacing him with idols made in its own image. In analyzing the causes of the contemporary phenomenon of terrorism, consideration should be given, not only to its political and social causes, but also to its deeper cultural, religious and ideological motivations.
11. In view of the risks which humanity is facing in our time, all Catholics in every part of the world have a duty to proclaim and embody ever more fully the ”Gospel of Peace”, and to show that acknowledgment of the full truth of God is the first, indispensable condition for consolidating the truth of peace.