Douglas Roche


January 11, 2016

I have been reflecting on how the Year of Mercy, proclaimed by Pope Francis, connects with my work of building the conditions for peace in the world. This has led me to examine the run-up to an extraordinary meeting to be held in 2016: the first-ever World Humanitarian Summit.

"Mercy" is a word and a virtue that ought to be celebrated. In fact, Pope Francis called this special year the Extraordinary Jubilee of Mercy.

Opening the year at St. Joseph's Basilica in Edmonton, Archbishop Richard Smith said it isn't enough to point out and lament what is wrong in our world: "We must go further to heal the illnesses of confusion, poverty, hatred and violence with the antidote of mercy."

How do we apply "mercy" to the world around us today? The word immediately connotes compassion or forgiveness shown toward someone whom it is within one's power to punish or harm.

Mercy leads to reconciliation, particularly in cases where harm or an injury has taken place. I see mercy at the heart of Jesus' teaching on how we are to treat one another in our daily lives.

But what about the political order? The terrorist violence driving fear into the hearts of so many around the world has overwhelmed, at least at this moment in time, the machinery of peace.

By this, I mean the whole UN system, the development of international law and the outreach of diplomacy to resolve conflict are being undermined by conflict, the very opposite of mercy.

The peace process is crippled because politicians are afraid to fully use it lest they be accused of "weakness." Instead, those who call for vengeance capture the headlines.

It is not only the Republican candidates for nomination to the presidency of the U.S., crying out for more war, who are making political capital out of fear. The whole political system in the U.S. and Europe lacks full understanding of, and commitment to, reconciliation.

Canada, it appears, is trying to find a way that stops short of war, but does not yet fully embrace the principles of non-violence at the heart of a culture of peace.

The new government's crash program to welcome Syrian refugees is a significant move forward, but the full meaning of mercy and reconciliation is yet to be revealed.


In this world atmosphere, the current planning for the World Humanitarian Summit, to be held in Turkey next May, is heartening. The meeting was initiated by UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon to improve global humanitarian action in four main areas:

  • Humanitarian Effectiveness. A five-year plan will be launched to strengthen response efforts to emergencies.
  • Reducing Vulnerability and Managing Risk. Recent food security and nutrition crises have shown the need to reduce risks by better coordination by development and assistance agencies.
  • Transformation Through Innovation. New techniques are needed to prevent crises, not just react to them.
  • Partnerships for Effective Humanitarian Action. A forward-looking humanitarian agenda must bring together a broad range of humanitarian agencies to strengthen joint action.

Last October in Geneva, 1,200 participants from 153 countries took part in a global consultation to prepare the agenda for the summit.

A mix of governments and civil society organizations started work on resolving a host of issues: economic and social development, threats of radicalization, the role of national and international institutions in building peace, protection of human rights, treatment of refugees and stateless people. The summit will tackle the vast human security agenda.


The summit will address primarily the needs of the most vulnerable people today. This is certainly an historic opportunity, as the secretary-general's office says, "to provide hope for people of a life of safety, dignity and resilience and to reaffirm, the centrality of humanity in global decision-making."

I see this summit in terms of extending mercy to the afflicted. It is a melding of spiritual values with the pragmatic political agenda facing humanity.

The recent Paris summit, which produced an historic accord to limit world-wide carbon emissions, showed that world leaders can co-operate when pressure is put on them.

Also, the acceptance of the UN's Sustainable Development Goals, aimed at eradicating the worst forms of poverty by 2030, revealed how the world community can work together.

These positive steps give us hope as a New Year begins that the timeless values of mercy and reconciliation can be applied to a suffering world today. Mercy can inspire us to reach out to one another.