Through blurred lenses: A snapshot of a gathering in Manila

by Rev. Valentina Satvedi Leydon
Pax Christi Victoria

Being offered the opportunity to attend the Asia Pacific Network Regional Consultation organised by Pax Christi International was a privilege. The consultation was held in Manila, Philippines from November 27 until December 1, 2017.

Pax Christi in its inception is a very Catholic organisation. While that may be the case in regards to many of the Pax Christi member organisations, the one I find myself part of and based in – Victoria (Australia) – is very ecumenical and has been intentional in moving towards being an interbelief organisation, not merely a Catholic one. This movement is imbued with a stated intention to be inclusive of all who are committed to the work of justice and peace.

My identity is significant to me and as such I attended this event as an Anabaptist woman of colour of Indian ancestry. As is my personal practice, I went without any ‘set’ expectation, even though I was informed that I could end up being the lone person carrying the ecumenical banner. As it turned out, the gathering was essentially Catholic in its cultural practice, underlying assumptions and ritual.

Four persons including myself represented Australia and there will be a formal report collated and presented to Pax Christi Australia, by the four Australian attendees. The short recollection which follows is only a glimpse of what I noticed, as I participated in the consultation, through my personal lens. The larger report will share comprehensive details of the consultation from the perspective of all four participants: myself, Maggie Galley, Caesar D’Mello and Fr Claude Mostowik MSC.

I noticed:

  • The oppressed always have to be mindful when speaking about their oppressions so as to not offend the oppressor. However, the internalisations of the oppressor are strong and when not worked on, the attitude of destabilising the oppressed continues.
  • It is challenging for those working within an established institution to hold the institution accountable, or be open to taking a stance of critical detachment, for its affluence while a significant portion of the masses live in poverty.
  • Absent was the articulation of education for gender justice. It was unclear how we as an international community of peace builders, perceive how the young in their formative years are being (or could be) instructed to respect women in all aspects of living and being.
  • Few persons were willing to acknowledge how words, actions and postures – their own or that of others – still lack sensitivity towards gender and racial imbalances.
  • Ecumenism is understood differently by those in the Catholic tradition. This was evident through the instructions I received in regards to planning an ecumenical prayer service, for example.

I appreciated:

  • Pax Christi International staff taking the ‘backbench’, making room for those in the region take the lead in planning, organising and facilitating this event.
  • The conversations and the space provided for those from indigenous communities to articulate how they engage in the peace and justice work.
  • The purposeful invitation to those working at the grass roots level from various parts of the Asia-Pacific, to share best practices and insights into their fields of justice and peace.
  • The support I received as the lone non-Catholic, from my colleagues representing Australia (Maggie Galley, Claude Mostowik and Caesar D’Mello), for which I express deep thanks.
  • The Anabaptist connections that I indirectly discovered at the Conference, especially in regards to peace-building. In particular, I appreciated a few common connections via the Summer Peace-building Institute of the Centre of Justice and Peace-building at the Eastern Mennonite University Virginia and the Mindanao Peace-building Institute.
  • The inability to force a way of ‘doing’ and ‘being’ when it comes to dismantling ‘roadblocks’ to peace-building. We do not have all the answers and it is OK to come away without set answers, steps and concrete ways of moving forward.
  • The space made for Sacred Circles to discern and share the spirit’s moving each day.
  • The opportunity not to simply be a passive participant; rather, to be engaged in moderating, facilitating and assisting as appropriate.
  • The invitation to collate the sharings articulated in Sacred Circles, then offered as a way of ‘being’ and a sense of commitment to doing the work of peace embraced in those attitudes.
  • The opportunity to hear directly from families of victims affected by the practices of extra-judicial killings, currently mandated in the Philippines. It was powerful to witness those from positions of privilege in the Church walking alongside people being oppressed by the powers-that-be.
  • Inspiring work being done by the Filipino members of Pax Christi, in what can be a hostile social context for peace and justice advocacy.
  • Hearing about the ongoing work of the Non-Violence Initiative, culminating in an invitation to Pope Francis writing an encyclical on non-violence. It is clear that the Catholic Church is starting to shift its emphasis towards the notion of a just peace rather than a just war.

Having said all of the above, I have been energised by this experience and I am thankful for the opportunity granted to me by the joint generosity of the International, Australian and Filipinas sections of Pax Christi. The journey of the various members of the Pax Christi Asia-Pacific region is long and has received rejuvenation. There is much more to come in this regard and I look forward to developing the new relationships and journeying with all those who are intentional in their work towards a just and a peaceful world for all, regardless of their race, gender or theological belief.

Rev. Valentina Satvedi Leydon is a Committee member of Pax Christi Victoria (Australia), a member of Pacific Fellowship and a member of the Pace e Bene Communities of Practice. She is an Independent Consultant committed to her journey of undoing oppressions through a postcolonial lens while being grounded in nonviolence and peace.

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