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Homily - New Year's Day/World Day of Peace 2024 - Bishop McKeown


LVII World Day of Peace 2024 - Artificial Intelligence and Peace | Francis (

With all the horrible wars going on around the world and the appalling slaughter of unarmed men, women and children, it may seem to be almost a waste of time to celebrate the World Day of Peace. We seem so incapable of living peaceably with one another. The first World Day of Peace was celebrated in 1967, little more than 20 years after the Second World War ended. Then there was still hope of a more peaceful future. Now, despite much prayer, we seem to have found it much easier - and much more profitable - to make weapons than to make peace.

But Pope Francis is never without hope. In his message for today he addresses the subject of Artificial Intelligence and Peace. He knows that the human mind is blessed with great insights and inventiveness. But he is very aware that every technological progress can be used for either good or evil. We know that nuclear energy can be used to make electricity - and to make horrific weapons of mass destruction. Furthermore, we can see from wars in Ukraine, Middle East and elsewhere just how much technology and finance have been invested in creating arms to slaughter people and defend power bases – while health services cry out for crumbs to help people to stay alive. The most important advances that we can make are not in how we develop technologies but in how we use them for the benefit of all and not just for the profit of a few.

If we start off with a purely earthy vision of who the human person is, scientific advances in the absence of a moral framework or anthropology will always risk being useful for some but not for human flourishing. If we don't have a rich understanding of human dignity and of what we are capable of becoming through grace, then scientific developments will instinctively be used to suit the strong. The information technology revolution has made a few phenomenally rich people with inordinate wealth and influence. That gives them power to shape the world in a way that they think is right. They dominate much of the media to which we are all exposed. They have the power to promotes their message as the only sensible values and priorities. It is easy for the strong to believe that what suits them is good for everybody else. Why would they want that situation to change? Pope Francis insists that the voices of all stakeholders should be taken into account, including the poor, the powerless and others who often go unheard in global decision-making processes.(para 8)

We could spend a lifetime arguing and getting angry about the rights and wrongs of the horrific things that happened in our Troubles, in Ukraine and in the current onslaught on Gaza. We can disagree about why people are fighting or why it is morally justified. But people of faith come from, not merely from a secular political perspective but with a worldview that is formed by what God has revealed in Jesus. For people of faith, conflict is so often in the service of someone's power. We see that in situations from King Herod wanting to kill Jesus to the blindness of the powerful Pharisees and Sadducees wanting Jesus crucified. There is huge pressure in every conflict to take sides and to condemn one or other of the parties involved. Christ's followers have always been at their best when they posed difficult question to the strong, asking not who is fighting but who is benefitting from others fighting. War is always good for somebody. Otherwise, it would not be happening and being funded.

Thus, the message of Pope Francis is clear. We can use scientific progress to build a path to peace, by promoting human dignity and fighting disadvantage. Or we can let it to be used by the strong to make their position more solid, whatever the cost to others. The task of Christ's followers is to be on the side of those who suffer because they do not have power and influence. That means asking uncomfortable questions about morality and who has power. It is always better to wrestle with the awkward questions, rather than accepting mass-produced wrong answers. Pope Francis writes "Freedom and peaceful coexistence are threatened whenever human beings yield to the temptation to selfishness, self-interest, the desire for profit and the thirst for power. We thus have a duty to broaden our gaze and to direct techno-scientific research towards the pursuit of peace and the common good" (para 2)

Pope Francis also puts out a challenge to education. Do our schools simply train young people to take part in the competition that is often biased in favour of decision makers? Or do we help young people to develop uncomfortable critical thinking about all ideologies and to aim to build peace and not merely to promote personal success? Does the teaching of Christ form our minds as well as our hearts – or does it remain of the level of something for special occasions but of no real significance? ON this island, will our secular political leaders actually ban us from promoting a rich view of the human person and relationships and reduce education to mere content and information? The Christian worldview is not meant to limit our freedoms but to enhance our dignity. But some want it excluded from schools.

At the beginning of the new year, we often make new year resolutions. We believe in a God who is Emmanuel, with us in Jesus, in the Word made flesh who dwells among us. This Christmas mystery has to inform all of our synodal conversations about discerning God's way forward. Otherwise, we end up making decisions based on seculars agendas rather than on Christ among us, our hope of glory. This is not a time for Christ's followers to retreat from the pain of the world, to be frightened away from speaking out. The voice of Jesus is needed as much today as it ever was. Can we make resolution, not just about our health or our weight but that we will make the mercy of Jesus available in the wilderness of our angry and frightened world. That would be a great use of our real intelligence!

+ Donal McKeown

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