Understanding justice and peace as integral to the Christian journey

By Sandra Cox
January 17, 2015

As the World Council of Churches (WCC) promotes the vision of a “pilgrimage of justice and peace”, four students from the Ecumenical Institute in Bossey, Switzerland, share their understanding of justice and peace and how they embarked on a pilgrimage of their own.

Justice and peace is the commitment to construct and create new possibilities for life, says Nestor Gomez Morales, who worships at a congregation of the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) in Denver, United States. It entails not only hope for all living creatures, he explains, but a promise to work for the dignity and human rights of those who are suffering.

Nestor, originally from Colombia, relates injustice to his fight for the dignity and rights of undocumented immigrants. Growing up in the violence of a narcotics trafficking city where civilians were routinely killed in cross-fire made him sensitive to suffering and oppression.

When he moved to the US, he responded to God’s call to support his own community, knowing that, in the words of German Reformed theologian Jürgen Moltmann, “where there is no justice, there can be no secure peace.”

“Who has not dreamed of living in a better world in which the queen would be peace and the king would be justice?” asks Morales.

After a month at Bossey, Morales decided to start his own pilgrimage. “I think the most difficult pilgrimage is the inner journey. That is, self-awareness, the awareness of my own prejudices and stereotypes that can contribute to an unjust world.”

Love of God

Yulia Kotlyar’s quest for justice and peace is a response to the love of God. The whole of creation is the work of God, with the Trinity symbolising perfect harmony and union. Creation originally represented this harmony, but the fall brought about disharmony.

In the Russian Orthodox Church, overcoming sin, injustice and violence starts from baptism and remains throughout the life of the believer. The Divine Liturgy is the prayer for the whole world and blesses those in danger or need. “We celebrate the Divine Liturgy every day. This is not a part of my life, it is my life,” says Kotlyar.

For Christians, peace is an integral part of our mission, she says. Believers live with God and try to follow Christ in the way of justice and making peace.

Resolving the challenges of sharing life with students from all over the world at the WCC’s Ecumenical Institute is Kotlyar’s particular pilgrimage at this time. “We live, meet, laugh and cry together. We live in a communion and this is the way to promote peace. We are different but we live in peace. And so it is a pilgrimage.”

Divine justice

When Ramy Hanna thinks about peace and justice, it is divine justice that comes to his mind. “Justice is not the punishment, it is the process of letting issues return to another time: to the first position, to their just and original place.”

A worshipper at the Coptic Orthodox Church in Cairo, Hanna takes justice to mean the sense of returning to a right path, to be one again, regardless of doctrine or theological debate. “It is for us to know it must go back to the just way. Jesus says the whole world will know that these are my disciples, when they have loved each other.”

Hanna adds, “When Jesus was crucified, it was to renew the human nature that had been ruined.”

For Hanna, peace and justice are the two faces of one coin. Without justice, there is no peace and without peace, justice does not exist.

A pilgrimage moves from point A to point B, such as to Mecca or Jerusalem. However, the pilgrimage of justice and peace is not a pilgrimage to or for but of.

At the Coptic Church, in Cairo, he considers his pilgrimage to be with and through the young people he ministers, as they look to him for answers in matters that trouble them.

Justice and peace are complementary

For divinity college graduate Temjennaro Pongen, justice and peace both complement and complete each other.

“If you want peace, you work for justice. Justice and peace can have restorative values and can be a source of renewal or revival if put together,” says Pongen of the Christian Baptist Church of North East India.

Inspired by the ideological vision of Martin Luther King, Jr, Pongen stressed that true peace was not merely the absence of tension but the presence of justice.

Two forms of discrimination in her native Nagaland, northeast India - discrimination against women and racial discrimination by mainland Indians – drive her pilgrimage to educate others about peace and justice and see how this vision can be put into practice. “We will not live in harmony or peace as long as there is division. The mind is always troubled.”

Paraphrasing Psalm 85:10, she concluded, “Life can become complete in the true sense if justice and peace come together. Life will flourish when justice and peace kiss each other.”

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© Sandra Cox is a freelance writer and photographer whose interest in ecumenical and humanitarian news stems from nearly two decades as a journalist and development worker.

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