Homily of Bishop Kevin for World Day of Peace

Solemnity of Mary the Mother of God

World Day of Prayer for Peace, 1st January 2024

Homily of Bishop Kevin at Sligo Cathedral


Angels play an important part in the Christmas story, but what are they? In Scripture angels are spiritual creatures whose role includes being messengers from God. They are a reminder of God’s closeness and care. The angel Gabriel, in particular, is acknowledged as the angel who brings “good news”. It is Gabriel who announces to Mary that she is to become the mother of God. In this evening’s Gospel, we are reminded also that it was angels who who announce that the promised child has been born, and who tell the shepherds where he can be found. This is the good news that we celebrate this evening. We join with Mary in giving thanks to God, because he has done great things in her. Our prayer, of course, is that in the coming year, Jesus will be born again in us, and that God will continue to do great things in our world.

As I mentioned in my homily on Christmas Eve, the birth of Jesus is the beginning of a new relationship between God and humanity, because God literally takes flesh as a human being and shows us how to live as God intended. This is a moment of healing and peace and Mary, as mother of Jesus, is rightly described as Queen of Peace. It is appropriate that, each year, on the Solemnity of her motherhood, we also celebrate a day of Prayer for Peace.

We humans were created for relationship, both with God and with one another and, as the Scripture tells us, it is “not good for man to be alone”. I enjoyed my years as a student in Rome, but there were times when it was a bit lonely and isolated. My family were all here in Ireland. Nowadays that doesn’t seem so far away but, of course, I’m talking about a time before the invention of the internet, when there was no email or whatsapp. If I wanted to talk to my parents or my sisters, I had to go down to the Central Telephone Exchange and book a call. Just a few months ago, I was in Cameroon for a few weeks. It was much further away but, as long as the electricity was working, I could talk to people at home and even take part in Zoom meetings. It made me more conscious of the importance of the new technology for so many people in our own parish communities who have family members far away.

In his message for the World Day of Prayer for Peace, Pope Francis invites us to reflect the contribution that Artificial Intelligence can make to the well-being of humanity and to world peace. It is something that we could very easily take for granted, because we use it all the time. During the recent pandemic, artificial intelligence helped us to identify the virus, to track its progress and to develop a response in the form of various vaccines. At a more basic level it helped us to stay in touch, and to work and pray together, rather than become isolated and self-focused. When it is well used Artificial Intelligence and its associated technology can help us to understand one another better. Nations can work together to identify and respond more effectively to the many things which undermine peace; things as diverse as climate change, poverty, disease, the refugee crisis, famine or natural disaster.

Francis reminds us, however, that the goodness of artificial intelligence, like any kind of power, depends on the goodness and integrity of those who use it. I think many of us have become more aware, especially since the COVID 19 pandemic, that artificial intelligence is regularly used to fabricate and communicate fake news. We have seen very recently, in our own society, how fake news, combined with institutional failures, has been used very effectively to create suspicion and mistrust and to provoke racism.

Most of us these days carry mobile phones which are many times more powerful than the computer which landed the first people on the moon just over fifty years ago. People of my generation have had to adjust to the rapid development of technology. It is possibly lass dramatic for those of you who are younger. For many of you, it would be almost unthinkable not to have this technology at your finger-tips. Yet, I think, some of you have experienced it as a mixed blessing. You have seen how it can rob you of your privacy and how it can sometimes be used as a tool by bullies who hide behind the keyboard and the screen. I think the message is, if you truly want to be peace-makers, use artificial intelligence wisely and respectfully and don’t allow it to make your decisions for you.

On this question, Pope Francis has the following to say to all who are involved in the world of education:

“Education in the use of forms of artificial intelligence should aim above all at promoting critical thinking. Users of all ages, but especially the young, need to develop a discerning approach to the use of data and content collected on the web or produced by artificial intelligence systems. Schools, universities and scientific societies are challenged to help students and professionals to grasp the social and ethical aspects of the development and uses of technology.”

It fascinates me how Artificial intelligence allows us to track the flights of aircraft from one side of the world to the other, to know their altitude and speed, and to predict accurately how long it will be before they land. Unfortunately the same kind of technology allows us to identify and to target people hundreds of miles away and to land high explosives within a few metres of them. It does not, however, seem to help us to reflect morally on the implications of our actions. In his Message for today’s World Day of Prayer for Peace, Pope Francis writes:

“The ability to conduct military operations through remote control systems has led to a lessened perception of the devastation caused by those weapon systems and the burden of responsibility for their use, resulting in an even more cold and detached approach to the immense tragedy of war.”

I remember, many years ago, my father having an argument with the bank about some error that had been made in his account. The excuse offered by the Bank was that it was a computer error. He was not convinced. Perhaps computers do make mistakes at times, but it is unreasonable to blame machines for the mistakes and the bad decisions that we make ourselves. When it comes to peace in our families and in our global community, even the best of Artificial Intelligence cannot take the place of rational thought, wise reflection and right judgement.

Mary, Mother of God, Queen of Peace, pray for us.