Nonviolence, Our Stories, Social Issues

OUR STORY: The Human Rights Office, Kandy in Sri Lanka

This is the latest installment of a regular feature on the Peace Stories blog featuring the stories of our 120 member organisations on five continents around the world. In this story, we’re getting to know the Human Rights Office-Kandy, our member organisation in Sri Lanka. This interview was conducted by email with Fr. Nandana Manatunga, director of the office.


The Human Rights Office of the Kandy Diocese is part of the Catholic Church and headed by Fr. Nandana Manatunga. The office provides an important service on protection, security, legal advice, health, and trauma counseling to victims of rape, torture and other serious human rights violations “in breaking the silence”. The office engages in the rehabilitation of prisoners and their families and the families of missing persons. Efforts are made to educate the general public on the need to campaign for the defence of human rights and getting redress for the victims.

When and how did Human Rights Office-Kandy start?

The Human Rights Office (HRO) was started in 2008. I did human rights work with victims since 1997 when I was at Caritas as the director and also at the Diocesan Media Centre as the Director. When I had to leave the Media Centre , I decided to open up the HRO, but it took several years for the Bishop to understand our work and give an official approval. So it was purely an effort of the staff, the survivors and of the members of the support group.

Was there some particular event or issue that served to bring your organisation into being?

Even before we opened the HRO, we were focusing on the victims of torture and rape, an issue that was not so much focused on by other human rights organisations. Further we were the only organisation that took a holistic approach, providing security, protection, legal, medical, psychological, educational and social assistance to the victims. So it was on the request of the victims for such an holistic approach the we embarked on the HRO. Hence the issue was basically focused on providing security, protection and legal, medical and psychological assistance to the victims.

What is the structure and who are the people involved in your organisation?

We have a board of directors, comprised of 5 members, and a financial committee that decides on the organisation’s operations. Then we have the support group that consists of 35-40 members who are involved in the implementation of the activities, along with the staff and interns.

Fr. Nandana Manatunga addresses a consultation of Pax Christi member organisation in the Asia-Pacific region in Manila in December 2017.

Who are the main leaders or personalities behind the work?

Actually it is myself, the staff and the lawyers who lead the work, but our support group comprised of various professionals assists us all the time.

What are the current issues you are working on, or what are your major priorities?

Right now our priority is the release of the political prisoners who are also torture victims. In addition to that, we work to bring justice for rape victims, torture victims, and the families of the disappeared, and also the prisoners. By working with these groups, we are trying to identify the defects of the justice system and call for judicial and police reforms to bring about the rule of law in the country.

How is your organisation putting nonviolence into practice? What role does nonviolence play in your work?

For our organisation, “empowerment” through acting together is the key to nonviolence. By “empowerment” we mean strengthening the victims, survivors and their families and the whole civil society at large so that they can make a difference, that there are alternatives to fighting, to fight for justice following the adjudication process.

What is the greatest accomplishment of the HRO during its history?

We have broken the silent sufferings of the victims of rape and torture by empowering them to seek justice and redress and we have been successful as we have brought justice for many such victims. Our campaign has borne fruit as now torture and rape victims do not die with their stories, but they speak out and call for justice.

Is there any particular story about the organisation that stands out for you that you would like to share?

On the 28th of December 2015, the Nuwara Eliya High Court delivered a historic judgment: two men were each sentenced to 23 years rigorous imprisonment and ordered to pay Rs. 200,000 in compensation after being convicted for the abduction and rape of Jesudasan Rita, a 17 year-old Tamil girl from Talawakele in the hill country, on the 12th of August 2001.

It was a happy moment for Rita and those of us who were in court, especially to those of us at the Human Rights Office. It was a victory of exceptional courage and determination by Rita and all those who supported her long struggle. But it also showcased the exceptional decay of Sri Lanka’s justice system – more than 14 years to ensure justice for the abduction and rape of a teenage girl. In his introduction to the judgement, the judge also highlighted this delay in justice and also referred to the delays at the police stations.

It is rare that victims of rape, especially a teenage Tamil schoolgirl from a tea plantation area, can fight for justice. She will be victimised, again and again, in the verbal comments made to her, in the way people look at her, in her village, school, work place. The police, the Attorney-General’s Department, the judiciary, the family, the media, and society in general are not sympathetic. Even the sympathetic may not be committed to help pursue justice. She and her family are likely to encounter threats, intimidation, and attempts to discredit her if she decides to pursue justice instead of keeping quiet.

But Rita pursued justice with exceptional courage and determination, right from the time she was raped. Her first step after the incident was to go and complain to the police and then accompany the police to show the place of the incident and search for the suspects. These steps were referred to by the judge in a positive way in his reasons given for the judgment. The state counsels prosecuting her case had changed 15 times. At least 9 judges had heard her case. There were more than a hundred court hearings – in Kandy and Nuwara Eliya High Courts, non-summary proceedings, and another civil case in the District Courts. She had to go through the trauma of repeatedly explaining what happened to her in detail over a number of years, including in the face of harsh and probing cross examinations, and she even fainted once. But Rita had remained consistent in her story. The judge also recognised this and highlighted that the defence lawyers were not able to cast doubt
on Rita’s testimony, which appeared to be corroborated by medical evidence, observations of the police, circumstantial evidence, and some statements by the accused.

Rita had lost her father when she was young. Her grandfather died in 2009, midway through her struggle for justice – he had supported and encouraged her, and had given witness in her court proceedings. She pursued justice, despite intimidation to her and her family and attempts to offer money and get her to withdraw the case. She was compelled to stay in 21 safe houses for security. She had to leave her friends and familiar surroundings and change schools, villages. She even had to seek employment in the Free Trade Zone, far away from the hill country she had lived all her life.

The few successes in struggles for justice in Sri Lanka have been largely due to the exceptional courage and determination of survivors and victims’ families and the solidarity and support from a few individuals and groups, rather than the effectiveness of the state and statutory institutions established to deliver justice.

It’s a major fault of our justice system that justice is not accessible and available independently as of right, and quickly, but rather, appears to depend on a victim’s courage or ability to garner support. Fourteen years is way too long for a teenage girl who was raped to wait for justice. Thus, in the longer term, reform of the justice system will be key.

The legal machinery was once again activated when the two accused police officers, R.M. Nihal Rajapakse and W.M. Balasuriya who severely tortured Rohitha Liyanage and Sarath Bandara on the 28th of July 2005 were sentenced to 7 years rigorous imprisonment by the Kandy High Court Judge Menaka Wijesundara on the 3rd of December 2015 in the torture case no. HC 183/2007 under the Torture Act no. 22 of 1994. In addition, the judge also ordered the two accused to pay a fine of Rs. 10,000 for each count, caring a default sentence of six months.

Rohitha Liyanage activated the Torture Act no. 22 of 1994 after a long interval, as none of the torture perpetrators from the police or the armed forces were indicted nor sentenced during the previous regime, as a reward for assisting the armed forces during the civil war.

The 2 police officers attached to Wattegama police station tortured Rohitha and Sarath on the 28th of July 2005 by beating Rohitha with an iron rod until his right leg was broken in 5 places. The two police officers got themselves admitted to the hospital and made fabricated charges against Rohitha and Sarath for alleged attacks on the two police officers. The case of fabricated charges against the 2 victims was initially heard at the Magistrate Court in Teldeniya (Case no. B 600/2005). The Human Rights Office engaged in a national and international campaign against the torture and inhuman degrading treatment and punishment of Rohitha and Sarath, and, as a result of this campaign, the Attorney Generals Department withdrew the fabricated charges against the victims and the police officers were indicted under the Torture Act no. 22 of 1994.

What does it mean for your organisation to be part of the Pax Christi International network?

HRO being a religious organisation that basically works with people of different faiths is privileged to be part of the Pax Christi global network that works towards reconciliation, peace and justice, with so many diverse issues, striving to dialogue and co-operate with non-governmental organisations and movements. Pax Christi has paved the way for us to build bridges with various regional and international organisations to create a culture of peace.

I am Pax Christi, Our Stories, Peace, Women and Peacemaking

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.

Our Stories, Peace Spirituality

Nurturing spirituality to achieve sustainable peace

by Maggie Galley and Claude Mostowik, msc
Pax Christi Australia

Not since 2005 has Pax Christi had a consultation in this region. The last was in Pattaya in Thailand. This conference came out of calls from the region and with the generous support of Pax Christi International to look at the issues of peace that we face but also to seek a way of responding that is in accord with the spirituality of the region, of Indigenous people, the gospel and Pax Christi itself.

Four Australian delegates attended. Mr Caesar de Mello and Rev Valentina Satvedi (Pax Christi Victoria) and Ms Maggie Galley and Father Claude Mostowik msc (Pax Christi Australia NSW). Three of us were beautifully met and welcomed at the Ninoy Aquino International Airport with cold water and the typically tasty sweet cakes. It was wonderful to meet again with old friends from past gatherings and some new ones. The Asia Pacific Consultation Manila was a humbling experience for us as we found ourselves in the presence of such a broad range of amazing people who are committed to working for peace in our world. This is the beauty of Pax
Christi as an international group of committed people.

The delegates from New South Wales came to the consultation with the intention or aim of attempting to develop or forge stronger ties with people in the region – to know what each is doing and in some way being supportive where possible. This has been the aim of previous consultations and with the Facilitation Group that was set up at the end of the consultation it is hoped that this aim will be achieved.

The first day of the consultation began with a Pecha Kucha which is an exercise in storytelling. Each group
from Aotearoa-New Zealand, the Philippines, Japan, Australia, Sri Lanka, Pakistan, India, Indonesia and Burma, contributed to the Pecha Kucha by telling us who they were and what they were doing in their respective regions either in song, dance, poetry, narrative. Each day, after many sessions focusing on ‘Building Peace on the Ground’ we had a number of Sacred Circles to enable us in groups to reflect and share on what we had heard, how we felt about it, how we were touched by what was said, and what we could do.

After conducting an activity called Roadblocks to Peace there was a summing up of the Vision of Peace for Asia Pacific and the Obstacles to Achieving It. This led to what became the bulk of the time together where participants (two per panel) presented on the theme of Building Peace on the Ground: Sharing of Good Practices.

It began with Nurturing Indigenous Spirituality with Rangi Davis, a Maori woman from Pax Christi Aotearoa-New Zealand and Father Neles Tebay from (West) Papua. This was followed by another panel Challenging Affluence, Overcoming Poverty with Father Stephen Fernandes of India and Caesar de Mello from Victoria. The next panel was called Living in Harmony with the Earth: Combating Climate Change and Ensuring Sustainable Use of Natural Resources.

Despite the tranquility and hospitality of the Filipino people we were made very aware of the violence that plagues this beautiful people and the country. On day 3 of the consultation an exposure trip to a number of locations of significance in Manila was organised.

Our first stop was at a parish church in Manila. We were told that this one parish had up to the time of the December visit lost 81 parishioners. The church was huge and could have been a cathedral. After being ushered down a number of flights of stairs to a meeting room we were brought into the presence of women and men and children who had come to share their stories of how their loved ones were murdered.

The parish secretary then introduced us to the program strategies that had been put in place for people who had come to the church to seek support. We were introduced to how a parish – one of many – responds to a most unjust and traumatic situation: extrajudicial killings. This evidence based work was not just about the killings but also support for families left behind-the widows, the orphans, the loss of bread winners. One powerful impression amidst all the pain and suffering that was shared was that the solidarity with these people who are being victimised included ‘sitting at the table with the enemy’. We marveled at the commitment of the parish people to engaging with people who have been affected by the drug war that has been instigated by President Duterte. Though the numbers of people killed is unknown except that it was at the time at least 3,000. Nevertheless there is a culture of violence and a culture of fear. We heard what was being done for these people, who have seen, at times, a loved one killed in front of their houses for being or just suspected of being a drug user or drug trafficker. The priests, sisters and many lay people have opened their parish and their hearts to these people who have suffered by accompanying them to provide safety, establishing drug rehabilitation centres and support for families that have lost loved one or have someone in prison.

As people shared their pain and anger, it was not always possible to understand what they were saying but it was possible to feel their pain and suffering and anger at this institutionalised violence. The connection with these people who have suffered so much and lost so much was at times overwhelming.

It is important for us as members of Pax Christi to reiterate that the gospel call to love the enemy was also in place: the priests showed us through their example, as, difficult as it is that to be peacemakers we have to sit with the ‘enemy’, the abuser or the murderer, to ‘love one’s enemy’.

The first speaker, a mother who witnessed the murder of her daughter before the family dwelling, shared a
most heartfelt and moving story: the unimaginable experience of witnessing her child being shot before her. It was difficult to know how we could cope with such a moment and beyond.

A number of us found ourselves deeply affected as she described that terrible time in great detail. As this
mother related her story through tears there was strength in her resolve to seek justice and respect for her daughter. Other stories followed.

It seemed that it was not always clear who the persons were who had murdered their loved ones. They could have been police or drug dealers. This was the lot of poor families who had members who were either addicted to drugs or sold drugs to survive – and bearing the brunt of these extra-judicial killings.

There was no sense that an orderly legal process was going to follow for the person identified as addicted or connected to drugs. Police would often take bodies to holding areas where the families were forced to pay huge amounts to retrieve the bodies for burial. Clearly the police were collaborating with holding area owners to profit from these crimes.

The parish community in response to cry of the poor in this situation established an amazing number of strategies to respond to this horrible way in which the government under the new President Duterte was dealing with the drug situation. The needs of families affected by these extrajudicial killings varied and the parish community approached these needs in a very strategic and systematic way under the guidance of the parish priest and a priest from another area of Manila that was affected by these killings. This included taking into account all of the areas of need. These needs were divided into three groupings – patient care, family care and community care. It was impressive to say the least to see just how organised this parish was dealing with this crisis. The parish priest said a number of times that people need to be treated – not killed.

Church leaders and members and other members of civil community concerned about human rights were directly responding to these extrajudicial killings. When there were offers for those who were drug-addicted or involved with drugs to surrender to the police for rehabilitation there was suspicion and lack of trust as there were many stories of people who had surrendered to police being killed. This situation called for assistance from the priests when approached by those who were affected by drugs wanting to surrender but were unsure as to what would happen to them. The priests would organise a meeting with the police with the goal of getting an agreement from the police that the people who surrendered would not be harmed. The priests and parish workers had also been intimidated by unknown people.

One priest who has worked in the Philippines for 18 years revealed that this was a most difficult task for him. Sitting across a table in a room with a number of police officers who were undoubtedly responsible
for killing people was the hardest part of this negotiation. He spoke of having to do this task in order to
obtain an agreement from the police that those who surrendered would not come to harm. The limited
agreement was they would not be harmed for six months which was enough time to set up the rehabilitation process for those who had surrendered.

Interestingly, a large drug rehabilitation centre was funded by the Chinese government but was only half full. According to the priests the most effective drug rehabilitation program was one that operated within the community because it was based on personal care and developing relationships and inclusive of families.

Later in the day, we also visited a museum that depicted in photos mostly of the martial law era under President Ferdinand Marcos. Many hundreds of people, young and not so young, bishops, priests, nuns, and lay people in all professions were tortured and murdered in this era under the brutal regime of President Marcos. As we traversed each of the rooms with the many photos, I was aware of the rivers of blood and the
violence that has swept through the lives of this beautiful people and their country beginning with the
Spanish, then the USA, the Japanese, the USA again, Marcos and now Duterte. Yet, in looking at the faces of young students and many other people, I saw also that parallel to this blood and violence is a river of courage and resistance that was depicted on the T-Shirts that were for sale at the museum – ‘Never forget, Never again’. That courage is seen if we dare look in the lives of peasant farmers, indigenous people, and their supporters who have paid the price for their solidarity against the government corruption, mining corporations that devastate the land and peoples’ lives and corporations that oppress the people in so many ways.

The next day two more panels were held: Promoting Peaceful Societies: Towards a World without War with Father Paul Lansu, Belgium and Pax Christi International and Father Nandana Manatunga of Sri Lanka. The final panel was called Promoting Gender Equality and Human Rights for All with Sister Filo Hirota of Japan, and Father Emmanuel Yousaf of Pakistan.

It was gratifying that the consultation reflected the concerns of some in the region that we not only dealt
with conflict, though it is ever present, but to search for further threats to peace in our relationships with women, Indigenous people, the Earth. The range of topics covered in the panel presentations tried to address this issue.

These panel presentations were followed up by presentations and sharing on Achieving Sustainable Development Goals through Our Work on the Ground. This was necessary and important but somewhat difficult to engage with after the panel presentations and the experience of the exposure day.

Maggie Galley is the secretary of Pax Christi Australia National Council She became an active member of Pax Christi just prior to the illegal Iraq invasion in 2003 She works part time as an Accounts Officer at Sydney Alliance, a non-profit organisation. Claude Mostowik is a member of the Missionaries of the Sacred Heart ordained in 1976. From 1977 to 1981 he worked in the Northern Territory in various aboriginal and non-aboriginal communities. He has been promoter for justice and peace in Australia for his congregation since 1999. He became Convener of Pax Christi Australia (NSW) in 2001 and also National President in 2009.

Nonviolence, Our Stories

Tabang Marawi: Encountering the casualties of war

by Archbishop Antonio J. Ledesma, S.J.
Pax Christi International Board Member

Last Monday, July 31, after the fiesta Mass of St. Ignatius Loyola at the chapel of Camp Evangelista in Cagayan de Oro City, I visited the wounded soldiers in the military hospital.  There were more than 80 of them filling the rooms, with some having to lie on beds along the corridors.  One had an amputated arm, several had shrapnel wounds on different parts of the body, others had casts on their arms or legs.  A number showed me near – misses of shrapnel around their eyes.  Many more of the wounded were lying down or seated with dextrose bottles hanging  near them.  The more severely wounded had already been flown to Gen. A. Luna Hospital in Quezon City.

What struck me most was the youthful demeanor of many soldiers – many in their early 20’s.  About a dozen soldiers had wives or relatives watching over them; some had two or three children left at home; but the majority were left alone, coming from distant provinces – Apayao, Tarlac, Nueva Ecija, Cavite in Luzon; Samar, Leyte, Cebu, Negros, Iloilo in the Visayas; and various parts of Mindanao, including some Muslim soldiers from Jolo.

As we left the hospital, two Huey helicopters from Marawi were landing – one with more wounded soldiers and the other carrying the dead.  This is one face of the battle of Marawi.  The most recent casualty count includes 114 soldiers killed with seven or eight times more that number wounded.  Rebel casualties are reported at more than 700 killed; and an indeterminate number of civilians killed or missing.

Another image of the Marawi conflict are the lines of Muslim women and children with some men, waiting to receive relief packs as their names are called by a local leader reading from a prepared list.  On July 18, I joined our relief team from the Archdiocese of Cagayan de Oro and St. John Vianney Theological Seminary.  We distributed relief packages to 430 families in six barangays in Marawi – Bgys. Bito Buadi Parba, Bito Buadi Itowa, Eunie Punod, Pagalamatan, Bubong Lumbac and Mipaga.  One could see from their courteous greetings and smiles that the Muslim residents appreciated our coming, since this was one area that had been reportedly neglected by aid agencies.  Some of the religious sisters with us tried to conduct a brief trauma – healing session for the children by means of some games.  Occasionaly, one could hear the sound of bomb explosions coming from the other side of the hills separating these barangays from the fire fight zone.  Some residents showed us several M-75 stray bullets that lodged in their houses.

Earlier on June 8, in Bgy. Barra, Opol, bordering Cagayan de Oro City, our Social Action team with some religious sisters and ministry co-workers distributed standard packs containing five kilos of rice, Milo, coffee, dried fish, some canned goods and toiletries to 500 Muslim families.  These were evacuee families from Marawi preferring to seek shelter with their relatives rather than staying in evacuation centers.  Indeed, government agencies report that 90% of Muslim internally displaced persons (IDPs) could be classified as home-based rather than staying in evacuation centers.  In Barra, the distribution of relief goods was done at the four mosques, with the help of the local imam (or religious leader) of the mosque.

In all, our SAC team and volunteers, headed by Fr. Satur Lumba and Mr. Carl Cabaraban, has distributed food and relief packs to nearly 3,400 families in 16 city parishes and barangays – such as Kauswagan, Cogon, Camaman-an, Iponan, Carmen, Macabalan, Consolacion, Lapasan, Cugman, including Oro Jama-ah Masjid mosque near Cogon market.

Likewise, our SAC team together with other volunteers has brought over the past two months relief goods to 368 families in evacuation centers situated along the road to Marawi, in Baloi, Lanao del Norte and Saguiaran, Lanao del Sur.

We are grateful to many donors and partners in our relief work.  These include: CBCP-NASSA; Xavier University; Lourdes College; Peace and Equity Foundation; the RVM, RGS, DC Sisters with the Association of Women Religious of Cagayan de Oro; Catholic Women’s League; Couples for Christ; CFC-Gawad Kalinga; Tanging Yaman Foundation with Fr. Manoling Francisco, SJ; Sen. Koko Pimentel; Atty. Rufus Rodriguez; the Diocesan Social Action Centers of Bacolod and Legazpi; and many of our parishes (Gingoog, Balingasag, Claveria, Balingoan, Cathedral, Camaman-an, Xavier Heights, Villanueva, Mahinog, Consolacion, and Sacred Heart).

In the midst of war and destruction, our relief, rehabilitation and reconstruction efforts will continue together with many other government and non-government organizations.  And this perhaps is the shining light from Marawi in the midst of gloom – that Christians and Muslims have learned to help each other (even as in some cases they have died together), and that the re-building of Marawi can be done with the collaboration of all sides aspiring for peace and development in Mindanao.

Nonviolence, Our Stories

OUR STORY: The Denis Hurley Peace Institute of South Africa

This is the latest installment of a regular feature on the Peace Stories blog featuring the stories of our 120 member organisations on five continents around the world. For May 2017, we’re getting to know the Denis Hurley Peace Institute, one of our member organisations in South Africa. This interview was conducted by email with Director Danisa Khumalo and Jeanette Lesisa.


South Africa (SA), for historical reasons, commanded world attention for decades. The word that best describes this attention is the word ‘Apartheid’, a form of constitutionalised racism. It united socialist and capitalist countries against it; it brought about a unity of purpose between rich and poor, East and West, in their opposition to it.

Rather than being an ugly aberration, South Africa was really an extreme parable of an entire global system. This bleeding land was and is a microcosm of the oppressive dynamics which now govern the world order.

When, why and how did the Denis Hurley Peace Institute start?

Denis Hurley Peace Institute (DHPI): Since the democratic transition in 1994, the Southern African Catholic Bishops’ Conference (SACBC) has received numerous requests for assistance in the area of conflict management from the Catholic Church across the African continent. South Africa owes a huge debt to its African neighbours for the support they gave to the country during the dark days of Apartheid. The Bishops felt the need to repay that debt by responding as best they could to the requests they received.

The lot fell on the Justice & Peace Department of the SACBC to actually go to those countries and support them in whichever way they could. The outcome was that the Justice & Peace Department was spending much of its time outside the country and that the Justice & Peace work in the country was suffering. Therefore, the Bishops decided to establish a Peace Institute, which would have the specific mandate to respond to the call of Africa.

Archbishop Denis Hurley

Bishop Kevin Dowling of Rustenburg Diocese, working with the then Coordinator of the Justice & Peace Department, Mr. Neville Gabriel, were mandated to propose how this Peace Institute would come into being. Numerous consultations took place across a wide section of South African society, and indeed beyond the borders, and the final result was the establishment of the Denis Hurley Peace Institute in October 2004. Archbishop Denis Hurley, a legend in the struggle against Apartheid, had passed away the year before and so it made every sense to call the new Peace Institute after him.

Was there some particular event or issue that served to bring the Institute into being? 

DHPI: South Africans did not stand alone in their struggle against Apartheid; the world stood with them and not least their African neighbours who received, sheltered, educated and helped train thousands of young South Africans to return home and take up the fight.

This was done at enormous cost to their own countries that paid a heavy price for this solidarity and support. It is a scandal that the Truth and Reconciliation Commission (1996 to 1999) did not investigate gross human rights violations in neighbouring African countries that bore the brunt of the vicious South African regime’s capacity to strike back with impunity on foreign soil. Somehow those innocent people killed for offering a safe haven to so many South Africans, did not seem to count.

It is important to clearly state that the work being carried out by the DHPI is the work of the SACBC, as DHPI is an Associate Body of the SACBC. The Bishops from the SACBC have made numerous solidarity visits to various countries such as Sudan, DRC, Zimbabwe, South Sudan, Ethiopia, Burundi, Uganda, Swaziland and Lesotho, that have been hugely appreciated in particular by the local Church and in general by the local population.

It is further important to point out that DHPI work takes place outside of South Africa, in various countries scourged by war and conflict. However, DHPI does have a close working relationship with both the Justice & Peace Department of the SACBC and the Catholic Parliamentary Liaison Office (CPLO) which is also an Associate Body of the SACBC.

What is the structure and who are the people involved in the Institute? Who are the main leaders or personalities behind the work?

DHPI: DHPI basically functions with four different structures: The Board, the Staff, the Associates, the Consultants and the Contact People.

Past and present board members of DHPI

The Board was constituted by the SACBC because DHPI is an associate body of the SACBC but has its own Board of Governors. The Board is constituted by less than 10 members of which three ex-officio members, a Bishop, the SACBC Secretary General and a priest, the CPLO Director.  In addition there is the DHPI Director, another priest with Justice & Peace experience, and the rest of the members are people with various expertise and experience such as project management and financial management.  The Board serve for a minimum of three years and a maximum of six years and meets twice a year.

The Staff of DHPI has expressly kept the staffing to a minimum because most of its work is done outside the country though the office is based in SA. The staff is constituted of a Director, an Office Administrator and a Financial Manager. DHPI is in a process of getting M&E personnel.

The Associates are people we liaise with on the ground who very often do the preparation work in each country before the DHPI’s intervention. The Associates assist DHPI in identifying country problems and avenues for DHPI’s intervention with the mandate of their Bishop.

The Consultants are people (some Bishops and priests from SA) that the DHPI call on a regular basis to assist in our work in various countries. Most have a particular skill such as legal (lawyers) versed in the issue of constitution writing; some have experience in election monitoring, others in conflict management while others are called upon to share the South African experience.

Internal Partners are mostly local organisations that DHPI has developed a very close working relation with, like the Department of International Relations and Cooperation (DIRCO).  DHPI is also closely associated with NGO’s in South Africa who share the same concerns and sentiments on peace building and who monitor what is going on in the same countries as DHPI does. These also include the Institute of Security Studies (ISS), Southern African Liaison Office (SALO) and Crisis Action among others. At times DHPI attend their seminars organised by these internal partners on topics pertaining to the countries DHPI works in and at times we are invited as guest speakers at their conferences and dialogues.

External Partners consist of the Catholic Commissions for Justice & Peace (CCJP) in various countries as well as funding partners from international community who supports the work of DHPI in the countries DHPI works.

What are the current issues you are working on, or what are your major priorities? 

DHPI: The Institute is very much concerned with the current issues that are affecting various countries in Africa. DHPI is current working on capacity building in peace building, conflict management, leadership skills, trauma healing and counseling, constitutionalism, electoral processes, advocacy and through its intervention DHPI also promotes the Catholic Social Teachings (CST).

How is the Institute putting nonviolence into practice? What role does nonviolence play in your work? 

DHPI: Nonviolence approaches are the essential message of the work of DHPI. All our interventions are shaped by nonviolent philosophy and approach. Peace is seen as something more than the absence of war or overt violence. DHPI in its work champions nonviolent ways of building peace. Approaches such as conflict management, mediation, advocacy for peace, using eminent persons as envoys for peace and giving negotiation a chance are nonviolence approaches that DHPI work with and encourages other communities to adopt. As a South African organization, we have learnt that violence begets violence and it should never be encouraged. Nonviolence is seen as an important tool to disarm others and to bring them to a point of talking without carrying weapons.

The manuals that we use and one that we developed on leadership cements the nonviolence approach to dealing with conflict.

What is the greatest accomplishment of the Institute during its history?


  • Working with and supporting CCJP and Civil Society organisations toward independence of South Sudan.
  • Solidarity visits in Sudan, South Sudan, Burundi, Lesotho and Swaziland of which the Bishops wrote and public statements condoning the situation of these countries.
  • Dialogues on Lesotho where the Former Prime Minister of Lesotho Dr. Thomas Thabane was the guest speaker and Mrs. Maaharanye Mahao, the widow of General Mahao who was brutally killed in Lesotho. Among those who attended the dialogue were the wives of the policemen who were in prison without trial accused of mutiny.

Is there any particular story about the Institute that stands out for you?

DHPI: In September 2015, DHPI facilitated a solidarity visit by the leaders of the Catholic Church to Lesotho. During this visit, our host conference expressed the sadness of living in a troubled state where the army and police were supporting individual politicians and not protecting the people. During the visit, our leaders listened to what leaders from the opposite political parties had to say. They also listened to the relatives of the slain former commander of the Lesotho Defence Forces, Lt. General Mahao. They met and prayed with the wives of 23 detained soldiers who were being charged of mutiny. Their cases (of the arrested soldiers) were so serious that if found guilty, their sentence would have been death.

Solidarity visit to Lesotho, the SACBC delegation and Lesotho delegation after visiting the detained soldiers

The Bishops decided to go into the maximum prison to visit the detained soldiers. The Bishops spoke words of consolation to men (soldiers) who were facing an uncertain future. The Bishops expressed their solidarity and the solidarity of the Catholic Church in South Africa including people of goodwill. I saw some tears from some soldiers and some of the Church leaders. This was solidarity lived in reality. I saw a face of a concerned Church. A visit to the king was also undertaken and concerns were raised by the Church leaders. The relationship of solidarity has continued to date. The challenges of Lesotho are many but the care and solidarity is still alive.

Any story that is particularly meaningful to you?

DHPI: At the celebration of 10 years of Denis Hurley Peace Institute’s existence, the Former President of South Africa who was a guest of honour, delivered a lecture. In his lecture, he pointed out that the Denis Hurley Peace Institute’s work complements the work of government.

As some African countries lack peace, he saw enough room for the co-operation of Church and his foundation in working towards peace. He also underlined the concept of Africans working to solve their own problems. That for us in Denis Hurley of appreciation that our work is still acknowledged in our Country and leaders like Former President Thabo Mbeki are prepared to work with the Denis Hurley Peace Institute to contribute to peace building.

Our Stories

OUR STORY: Pax Christi UK

This is the third installment of a regular feature on the Peace Stories blog featuring the stories of our 120 member organisations on five continents around the world. For March 2017, we’re getting to know Pax Christi UK. This interview was conducted by Marie Just, Pax Christi International communications intern, with Pat Gaffney. Gaffney is the General Secretary of Pax Christi UK.


Marie Just: When and how did Pax Christi UK start? Was there some particular event or issue that served to bring Pax Christi UK into being?

Pat Gaffney: In 1958 a small group started meeting in London to discuss Church teaching on peace and to promote the international routes, which are marches/pilgrimages across Europe, for peace. The objective was to further peace by fostering international friendship. John Geary, a young man who had taken part in Pax Christi International routes in Germany, Italy and France, inspired these activities. The first issue of a news bulletin was published in 1961 and Bruce Kent, then a curate, agreed to act as chaplain. Pax Christi had strong links with London University and most members were under 30 years of age.

New papal teaching on peace contained in the encyclical Pacem in Terris (1963) and in documents emerging from the Second Vatican Council (1962-65) gave encouragement to Pax Christi’s mission. Issues of contemporary concern which the British group took up included the lack of rights for conscientious objectors in Catholic countries such as Italy, France, Spain, and Portugal, and British arms sales to Nigeria, Biafra, and South Africa. Pax Christi emphasised the value of international exchanges with foreign students visiting London and with young people staying in its summer hostels. Joint retreats and conferences were held with PAX, an older Catholic peace group, and in 1971 a single Catholic peace movement was created when PAX and Pax Christi merged.

MJ: What is the structure and who are the people involved in Pax Christi UK?

PG: We are a membership organisation, we have around 1,500 individual and family members and then we have around 1,500 Catholic parishes who support our work financially through our annual Peace Sunday work. We have an Executive Committee who oversee the management and planning work of Pax Christi. This is made up of nine people who are elected at our Annual General Meeting. They serve for around six years and attend meetings five or six times a year.

We have a staff of four in the office, three full-time and one part time. We have an Editor who works on a free-lance basis and we have volunteers who regularly come to the office to help with administrative work and mail-outs.

MJ: What are the current issues you are working on, or what are your major priorities?

PG: In our campaigning work we are involved in the Nuclear Weapon Ban Treaty work – representing an on-going commitment to our work on nuclear disarmament. We are part of the Global Days of Action on Military Spending and will be promoting action for April 2017. We are part of Kairos Britain and will be reviewing how best to work in this network and weave in the advocacy opportunities around Israel & Palestine that come from PC International and from the World Week for Peace in Palestine & Israel.

In our nonviolence work, we are deeply involved in and committed to the Catholic Nonviolence Initiative and will be running workshops/seminars and conferences to promote this work within the Catholic Church in England and Wales.

In our on-going Peace Education work we are committed to running workshops and training days in schools around the country. We are also working with others to produce a new nonviolence resource for schools.

We are also undertaking a strategic review of all of our work to plan for changes that are due to impact on the organisation within the next couple of years.

MJ: How is Pax Christi UK putting nonviolence into practice? What role does nonviolence play in your work?

PG: In our nonviolence work, we are deeply involved in and committed to the Catholic Nonviolence Initiative and will be running workshops/seminars – we will be offering four this Spring and in the Autumn we will be hosting Maria Stephan and Marie Dennis on a 2 or 3 city speaking tour.

We produced resource materials on the World Peace Day theme which were sent to every parish in the country and we are encouraging parishes to reflect on the theme and practical suggestions for the whole of the year.

We are setting up a theology/spirituality group on nonviolence to help set some direction to this work.

We will be looking to create some new resources later this year – probably visual resources that help people to better understand what nonviolence is about.

MJ: What is the greatest accomplishment of Pax Christi UK during your history?

PG: I don’t think there is just one!

Our promotion of the World Peace Day message, securing a Peace Sunday in the Catholic Church in England and Wales would be one. It is Pax Christi who have faithfully created resources/reached out each year to parishes to promote the theme. In that time we have seen a massive increase in the take-up of resources and also in the financial contributions that parishes make to Pax Christi as a result.

Work undertaken in the 1970s-80s on Northern Ireland. Pax Christi was a key English partner in many cooperative projects. Pax Christi also played a key role in bringing to the attention of the Church the miscarriages of justice at that time – helping to advocate for those wrongly imprisoned.

Work undertaken in 2002 when Pax Christi initiated a petition/project on the Morality and Legality of War with Iraq which attracted national and international attention and support and raised the debate within the Church and beyond about the prospect of war with Iraq.

MJ: Is there any story about Pax Christi UK that stands out for you?

PG: The experiences created around our International gatherings: councils, World Assemblies, Annual General Meetings. When we come together and begin to appreciate that we are a part of a much bigger, richer movement. These encounters are informative, creative, life-giving and give a really human face to the work of Pax Christi around the globe. The solidarity we develop at such gatherings helps to sustain us when we return home.