La Paz

Parish Diary

Fr. Peter Daly






            In every mass, throughout the world, we Catholics turn to one another and wish each other peace.  Most of the time this remains only an abstraction, but  sometimes the prayer for peace takes on  flesh,  in the behavior of people and the policy of nations.  When it does, it deserves to be celebrated.

            That is why I want to say one final word about my visit to Costa Rica this summer.  Peace.

            Costa Rica is a unique example in the Western Hemisphere of Christian teaching in action.  This small country, about the size of West Virginia, with a population of 3.2 millions, is living the scriptural goal of beating swords into plowshares. It is also prospering because of it.

            For the last 50 years, Costa Rica has not had a military.  It was abolished the army in 1948 following a  failed military coup.

Since that time its has been totally neutral, like Switzerland.  But it has gone a step further than Switzerland because Costa Rica has no army at all.

            The money saved by not having a military is wisely spent on two important needs, health care and education.

            As a result Costa Ricans have a life expectancy of 76 years for women and 72 for men, nearly equal to the U.S., and a literacy rate of 93%, higher than the U.S.  (Figures from the U.S. Dept. of State).

Education and health care are universally available to every citizen, paid for by a social security tax.

            Just walking down the street you can see the difference.  In Costa Rica you see none of the groups of children begging or idle or the crippled and lame children one often sees in Africa or the Middle East as a result of war or disease or lack of schools.

            The most significant result of Costa Rica's neutrality is peace. Unique among its Central American  neighbors, Costa Rica has been at peace for the last 50 years.  While Nicaragua, Guatemala, Honduras, and El Salvador have literally been bleeding to death in civil wars and military sponsored terrorism, Costa Rica has been living peacefully only a few miles away.

The result of all this peace is that people want to go to Costa Rica.  It twice as much tourism business than any of its neighbors.  It's biggest social problem is  the  influx of refugees, fleeing the violence and poverty in other parts of Latin America.  While I was in Costa Rica,  the town councils of a few Nicaraguan villages along the border  actually voted to secede from Nicaragua and join Costa Rica, great is the attraction of  peace and prosperity.

            How has this happened?  I don't presume to know.  But I see that that the ethic of peace takes the same kind of promotion and praise that we give to our military.   

For example, in Costa Rica, instead of signing off the broadcast day with symbols of military power, the local television signs off with pictures and songs of  peace; families together, school children playing, fathers holding babies, and crops being harvested .

 On roads and bridges I saw plaques which pointed out that this improvement was the "fruit of peace" and that the country could not afford it if it had to pay for a military.

At the University in San Jose, the capital, our  tour guide, pointed to the beautiful campus with pride and said, "This is our army."  It is also the "army" that brings companies like Intel and Microsoft to Costa Rica.

            We have a  "War College" run by our government.  Costa Rica has a "University of Peace" sponsored by its government.

Peace is even advertised.  As you enter San Jose from the airport,  there is a big billboard on the main street that proclaims, "La Paz comienza en nuestros hogares."  Peace begins in our homes.

            Real peace takes real risks.  But the sign is right.  It does begin in our homes and our churches.   Our sign of peace is more than a gesture, it is our prayer and the Lord will.