In the Catholic Church, January 1 is known as the “World Day of Peace,” and is a day when the pope expresses his prayer for peace in the world.
This tradition started on January 1, 1968, and was started by Pope St. Paul VI.
Pope Paul explained his hope for this annual observance in his first message for the World Day of Peace.
We address Ourself to all men of good will to exhort them to celebrate “The Day of Peace” throughout the world, on the first day of the year, January 1, 1968. It is Our desire that then, every year, this commemoration be repeated as a hope and as a promise, at the beginning of the calendar which measures and outlines the path of human life in time, that Peace with its just and beneficent equilibrium may dominate the development of events to come.
St. Paul VI believed that by starting the year off with a day of peace, it would focus the world’s attention in praying and working for peace in the New Year.
He also hoped this day would be accepted by everyone, not only Catholics.
The Catholic Church, with the intention of service and of example, simply wishes to “launch the idea,” in the hope that it may not only receive the widest consent of the civilized world, but that such an idea may find everywhere numerous promoters, able and capable of impressing on the “Day of Peace,” to be celebrated on the first day of every new year, that sincere and strong character of conscious humanity, redeemed from its sad and fatal bellicose conflicts, which will give to the history of the world a more happy, ordered and civilized development.
At the same time, he did not want this day to be merely the expression of hollow words of peace, but a sincere commitment to true and lasting peace.
A warning must be kept in mind. Peace cannot be based on a false rhetoric of words which are welcomed because they answer to the deep, genuine aspirations of humanity, but which can also serve, and unfortunately have sometimes served, to hide the lack of true spirit and of real intentions for peace, if not indeed to mask sentiments and actions of oppression and party interests.
It is, therefore, to true Peace, to just and balanced Peace, in the sincere recognition of the rights of the human person and of the independence of the individual nations, that We invite men of wisdom and strength to dedicate this Day.
All the popes after St. Paul VI have observed this day, and it has truly become a “World Day of Peace,” when millions of people around the globe pray for peace.