Expand your hearts and build peace Print
Written by Susanna Herro   
Thursday, Dec. 25, 2008 -- 1:00 AM

The World Day of Prayer for Peace, celebrated on New Year’s Day, is highlighted by the Holy Father’s message. This year, Pope Benedict XVI set the theme “Fighting Poverty to Build Peace.” 

Guest Editorial
Susanna Herro

Drawing on the words of Pope John Paul II from 1993, this year's message says in part, "Our world shows increasing evidence of another grave threat to peace: many individuals and indeed whole peoples are living today in conditions of extreme poverty . . . 

"This is a problem which the conscience of humanity cannot ignore, since the conditions in which a great number of people are living are an insult to their innate dignity and as a result are a threat to the authentic and harmonious progress of the world community."

We are all part of the solution

The economic crisis is stretching across the globe, so this timely message stresses that we are all part of the solution. We are urged ".  .  . in our dealings with the poor, to set out from the clear recognition that we all share in a single divine plan; we are called to form one family in which all — individuals, peoples, and nations — model their behavior according to the principles of fraternity and responsibility."


Practical steps to build peace

  • Catholic Relief Services (with an "A" rating from the American Institute of Philanthropy) recently made an urgent request to continue their outreach in nearly 100 countries. You can begin to fight poverty by donating at
  • Catholic Charities USA is the largest private network of social services organizations in the United States. Our Madison Diocesan Catholic Charities was instrumental in providing relief to the flood victims in the diocese and provides life-changing care to people, helping lift them out of poverty. Volunteers and contributions are welcome by contacting them at 608-821-3100 or
  • St. Vincent de Paul provides for the basics of people in need. There are many councils throughout the diocese and each would appreciate your donations of your time or contributions to provide for the poor. They can be found in your local directory or at
  • If you would like to work for peace, contact Susanna Herro, director of the Diocese of Madison Office of Justice and Pastoral Outreach at 608-821-3086 or This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it

Pope Benedict calls attention to specific problems: pandemic disease, child poverty, disarmament and development, and the food crisis. Underlying his remarks is the understanding that respecting human life builds society. He asks, "Does not every one of us sense deep within his or her conscience a call to make a personal contribution to the common good and to peace in society?"

Help build peace

As the economy creates hardship on people throughout the world, we have the ability to make "a personal contribution" and to help build peace. Through the devoted service of Catholic Relief Services, Catholic Charities, St. Vincent de Paul, local food pantries, shelters, and community groups, each of us can lessen the impact of poverty and help create a world of peace.

Pope Benedict XVI draws again on the words of John Paul II who called us to "abandon a mentality in which the poor — as individuals and as peoples — are considered a burden, as irksome intruders trying to consume what others have produced." Pope Benedict emphasizes that " . . . the Church to this day carries out her work for the poor, in whom she sees Christ, and she constantly hears echoing in her heart the command of the Prince of Peace . . . 'Give them something to eat yourselves.' (Lk 9:13)." 

And finally, " . . . I extend to every disciple of Christ and to every person of good will a warm invitation to expand their hearts to meet the needs of the poor and to take whatever practical steps are possible in order to help them. The truth of the axiom cannot be refuted: 'to fight poverty is to build peace.'"

For the message go to and click on the "Message for Peace" button.

Susanna Herro is the director of the Diocese of Madison’s Office of Justice and Pastoral Outreach.