Nonviolence, Peace, Women and Peacemaking

The metamorphosis of a female fighter into a peacebuilder

by Sawssan Abou-Zahr

The story you’re about to read is that of armed conflict and gender, ideologies and the business of war, self-criticism and healing, peacebuilding and education. It is that of a woman who went from being a fighter, to fighting for peace. It is a story that proves how easy it is to get caught at a young age in the labyrinth of war, and how hard it is to detox oneself.

“I practice nonviolence and believe in the power of peacebuilding. I want to live in peace and help young men and women do so. I tell my story hoping to be a catalyst for change.”

Salwa Saad is a retired Lebanese educator. Instead of resting, she takes every possible chance to promote the role of women in peace education and peacebuilding as well as convincing vulnerable youth not to fall for sectarian discourses that end in armed conflict.

“I hate killing”, she told me when I started the interview with a perhaps rude question. I asked whether she got involved in killings directly. She answered: “I didn’t kill. Something inside me prevented me from taking lives although I was as good as any man in shooting… Some female fighters were notorious like their male counterparts. They still don’t show any remorse… As for me, I cried for years.”

She added: “When we became combatants, we cancelled the others’ rights; we didn’t perceive them as humans… After the war (1975 – 1990), I met fighters from the other end. It wasn’t easy to reach out to people who used to be enemies. They had their cause and I had mine. I disagree with their thinking, but they have another version of the story of the war.”

A villager in the war

Salwa was a rebel child in a mountain village. At the age of ten she experienced gender inequality without knowing this discrimination had a name. Her conservative father sent her to a public school whereas her brother was enrolled in a private one despite the fact that she was a better pupil.

At the age of 14 or 15, the Palestinian Liberation Organization (PLO) that had headquarters in her village started military training for young women. She used to watch secretly and dreamt of being among them, out of her support for the Palestinian cause and admiration to the equality between male and female freedom fighters.

Salwa is Muslim Shiite by birth. When I told her that I have to mention this to help non-Lebanese readers understand the motives of a young woman in a sectarian and still divided country, she was reluctant out of her secularism and refusal to be defined by inherited traits she didn’t choose. She only agreed when I told her I would write she was “Muslim by birth” instead of “Muslim”.

Early in the morning of Sunday April 13th, 1975, the Kataeb (Phalanges) Christian militiamen opened fire on a bus carrying Palestinians passing in the suburb of Ain Al-Rummaneh, killing over 30 people. Retaliation happened shortly after on a nearby church. The war erupted.

Salwa was then enrolled at the public university studying to be an educator. Shortly after, some communist colleagues invited her and other female students to visit their party where she would later sleep over by herself in the ammunition room…

Read this entire article at this link.

Our Stories, Peace, Women and Peacemaking

Sumud – Keeping the community alive

by Rania Murra and Toine van Teeffelen
Arab Education Institute

In late October, a group of 30 local young women launched the “Artas Deserves to Be Beautiful” advocacy campaign in Artas, a village to the south of Bethlehem. They wanted to solve the waste problem in the village. One participant relates, “I used to read slogans such as ‘After failure comes success!’ or ‘When there is determination, we can reach our goals.’ I did not understand the meaning of those words until I saw some powerful models of women showing determination, passion, and strength.”

“When I was a university student, my only ambition was to graduate and get a job. However, after participating in the project, I started to see things from a new perspective. A sense of responsibility started to grow in me. I felt that I was responsible for my village. I wanted it to be a beautiful place, and I increasingly felt a sense of belonging.”

The women in the village entered the field of tax collection. As volunteers, some went from house to house to encourage inhabitants to pay waste-collection taxes and to raise awareness about the problem of waste; others went to schools to give training sessions to students. They explained the tools of advocacy and campaigning, how to involve stakeholders and address those in authority. The cleaning campaign featured additional activities such as removing garbage from the street, putting flowers in tires along the road, asking the police to take care of parking issues, and celebrating the campaign with a photo exhibit and hanging slogan posters on walls in public areas. As a result, the participants won over students and teachers as supporters and volunteers. The mayor and village council as well as a local heritage NGO supported the actions. The women made an arrangement with the solid-waste department in the Bethlehem district. Authorities agreed to make Artas a “model waste-collecting village.”…

Click here to read the entire article.

I am Pax Christi, Women and Peacemaking

The #IAmPaxChristi interview: Kanini Kimau, Horn of Africa Grassroots Peace Forum

In this latest installment of the #IamPaxChristi interview, we’re profiling Elizabeth Kanini Kimau of the Horn of Africa Grassroots Peace Forum which works in Kenya and South Sudan. This series aims to highlight short conversations with the women and men who make up our movement. The interview was conducted over email. 

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Can you give a concrete example of conflict resolution and peacebuilding in your region or country in which you were involved?

The northern parts of Kenya are torn by persistent inter-ethnic violence among pastoral communities who inhabit that region. In 2009 I went to Marsabit with a team of Justice and Peace Commission members from Tangaza University College. At this time over ten ethnic communities where in conflict with each other, apart from the Rendille and Samburu ethnic groups.

I resolved to contribute to peace in the region as a volunteer and decided to focus on Rendille-Borana violent conflict which takes place around Marsabit Mountain (one of the few arable areas in a region characterised by desert). First I carried out research on the conflict to understand it better. The research established that these two groups were in conflict for many years. The violence had left the communities deeply divided, with a lot hatred, enmity and a quest for revenge which was passed on from generation to generation leaving the violence in a vicious cycle. There were efforts by the government and civil society to resolve the conflict, however it would calm down for some time only to then escalate again.

In a such deeply divided society, I felt the only way to attain sustainable peace was using an approach which would generate relationships, build trust, tolerance, and understanding, and enhance genuine inter-communal dialogue.

kaninimission

The communities were very suspicious and did not want to listen to anyone speaking about peace. In addition I was a young woman in a patriarchal society where women do not speak in front of elders or give them advice in any decision-making process. In this situation I chose religion as my entry point to these communities. This is because religious leaders are trusted by grassroots people so it makes it easier for them to accept anyone who comes through them. This enabled me to go and live among the people to first create a rapport and also deeply understand the violence situation.

Secondly I noticed that religion provided a big opportunity in bonding these divided people; however this potential had not been exploited in building a culture of peace in the area. The grassroots leaders had shared values inspired by their religion — like love, respect for life, and a recognition that all beings are children of God. Building sustainable peace is a slow and continuous process, but I observed that NGOs came and went after one year, two or three. Religious leaders are always with the people. In addition the ethnic groups who were fighting shared the same religious leader. For instance, the priest who celebrated mass for the Rendilles was the same who served the Boranas, so he was listened to and respected by both communities, hence making him a channel of peace in the area. Finally many peace initiatives are dependent on heavy donor funding which creates dependency at the grassroots and the peace process ends when the funding ends. When religious leaders are empowered with the right skills, they will continue strengthening the peace initiative even without money.

The potential which religion holds helped me to choose it as an instrument of bonding people. First I chose 14 elders who were key decision-makers and influential in their communities. They were composed of Muslims, Christians and traditional elders. I took them to Nairobi, more than 6oo km from Marsabit. The long journey on poor roads made them forget their differences. In Nairobi we held our meeting in a church which was burned some years back by Muslim youth when seeds of hatred in Kenya were taking root. After five days of interaction and learning a nonviolent way of communication, the elders went home as a team and visited various villages asking people to come together despite their religion or ethnic group and to work for their own peace.

Secondly I met with the religious leaders at the grassroots and asked them what role they can take to build peace in their area. The leaders started organising common worship where one month they prayed among the Boranas and next month they prayed among the Rendilles. Each year the leaders were organising a very big worship service where people prayed and shared meals together. For instance in 2018 during the political campaigns, several cattle were raided. Children were then killed by slaughtering them like animals in order to anger the other community to revenge. The grassroots people refused to take revenge. They organised for a very big worship service in July 2018 which brought Christians, Muslims and traditional elders together from various communities. They all asked for forgiveness and decided not to exact revenge. Despite the high tension brought by politicians, the communities refused to go to war. The grassroots leaders continued to mobilise the communities to pray together without any money. People who had not talked together found themselves in discussion on how to organise the worship and where to get food from. Children and youth from the warring communities organised a common choir and spent a night in the community where the worship was to be held. Additionally, the youth organised themselves across various religions and started organising sports matches which also facilitated the regeneration of relationship between the two communities.

These initiatives helped to bring so many people together.

DSC00794What were the challenges in terms of reaching conflict resolution and peace building and why was it successful?

Some of the challenges I faced on this journey were;

  • Strong political influence which was dividing the people we were trying to unite.
  • A lot of dependency on “sitting allowances” created by NGOs — people came to meetings when they knew they will get money and eat good food.
  • I lived with the people at grassroots so I heard negative stories of loss and lots of anger. Children always told me that when they grow up, they will go kill the enemy and bring back their livestock. So I got traumatised and did not have a team or institute which was helping peacemakers in this situation.
  • I was working without money even though the mission made so big of an impact. Some people got interested to support the initiative; however after some time, they raised money for their own use instead of the mission. Others wanted to make the initiative their own work. Struggling alone to retain the mission for the sake of marginalised people drained so much energy from me.
  • There was very poor infrastructure, no means of transport and I was cut off from friends and family for a long time. Being in such insecure and hardship areas, many of my friends believed that I was getting so much money and am not inviting them. This made me lose several friends.
  • The success of this mission was because of my insertion into these communities where people knew me, accepted and trusted me, and knew my intention was not to look for money but peace. In addition I saw each person as precious to me and had the right motivation of contributing to peace where many people who lived in a dehumanising situation would be able to live as human beings. This enabled me to overcome many challenges which I faced on the ten year’s journey.

What have you learned from this experience?

I have learned the following:

  • Peace in deeply divided societies is possible without lots of money if we have actors who have the right motivation and are committed to making lives better.
  • Religion has a lot of potential for building a culture of peace in the society because it is always with people; however this power has not been fully exploited.
  • The grassroots people who are the majority in society suffer most in times of war and they have the potential to work for their own peace; however many actors do not recognise this potential and end up doing the work for the people. Hence there is no sustainability of the peace process.
  • Finally there is a lot of money given for peace and very little impact is made.
  • Building relationships in a deeply divided society is key to attaining sustainable peace.

Why is the role of faith leaders important? What is the added value in conflict resolution and peace building?

  • The religious leaders are always with the people.
  • In a society where peacebuilding has been commercialised, these leaders are guided by religious values not money.
  • The structure of several religions enables the leaders to influence decisions at the top, middle and bottom levels.

kaninisorg

I am Pax Christi, Our Stories, Women and Peacemaking

Taking the long view: Pat Gaffney reflects on 30 years with Pax Christi UK

by Pat Gaffney
General Secretary, Pax Christi UK

Pat Gaffney is retiring as the General Secretary of Pax Christi UK this year. She wrote this reflection covering her nearly 30 years in that role.

1 April 1990: the day my contract with Pax Christi    began. 29 years on, I am still here (how did that happen?) but preparing to move on and create space for some new thought and energy. This article takes a long view of our work over this period, of changes within the global and domestic arenas, and in technology. Our movement has undertaken so many challenges with a spirit of ingenuity, flexibility and faithful persistence to Gospel peacemaking.

1990 was a good time to come on board. Talk was of a Peace Dividend. With the Cold War behind us, new opportunities were unfolding for economic and social growth. Spending on defence would decline and investment in arms conversion would follow. The Greenham Common Women’s Peace Camp had helped to get rid of cruise missiles. Pax Christi’s valiant East-West group, coordinated by Peggy Attlee, having worked towards one Europe, was prepared for the new challenges of creating a common home. In the summer of 1990 our British section of Pax Christi hosted in Clifton Diocese an international ‘route’ for young people, with the theme, Let’s build a Europe of Peace.  Sadly, many of those hopes crashed on 2 August when Iraq invaded Kuwait and what was to become protracted war in the Gulf and Middle East began. Goodbye peace dividend.

patgaffney

As a ‘new’ person four months into the job, the prospect of sliding into war was daunting! Thankfully, friends in the Fellowship of Reconciliation, Christian CND, the National Peace Council (NPC) and Campaign Against Arms Trade (CAAT) were ready to create common plans. Could we de-escalate the tension by urging our Government to prevent a full military response from the USA? Setting up communication systems was key. Pax Christi at that time had one temperamental computer, an old but sturdy Adler   typewriter, and a photocopier. My first big purchase was a FAX machine – essential for getting out press  notices, sharing drafts of leaflets, sending letters to Government and so forth. By Spring 1991 we had established the Christian Coalition for Peace in the Gulf and a ‘Call for Action’ supported by church leaders, religious communities and groups around the country. In response to military attacks and then years of sanctions against Iraq, weekly vigils were held nationwide. The NPC ran a conference that became a springboard for much joint work, including the creation of the Peace Education Network (PEN) and a more focused response to the UK’s arms trade to the region – in particular that of British Aerospace.

Meanwhile, we kept a watching brief on developments around Trident. Peace activists and theologians reflected on the morality of nuclear weapons. Support for the annual Ash Wednesday witness grew, moving beyond London to Liverpool, Cambridge and Scotland. We organised a Christian lobby of Parliament on Trident and produced resources for the 50th anniversary of Hiroshima to revive awareness and campaigning.

Through our international links, and in partnership with the Catholic Institute for International Relations, CAAT, and TAPOL, an organisation promoting human rights in Indonesia, we became a member of the Stop the Hawks: No Arms to Indonesia Coalition, opposing the UK’s role in supplying arms that were used to terrorise the people of East Timor. We supported nonviolent action against  British Aerospace, including the BAE Ploughshares in 1993 and the Seeds of Hope Ploughshares women in 1996. We held a joint lobby of Parliament, vigils and campaign events. Around the country members engaged in solidarity actions with students from East Timor. Our then president, Bishop Victor Guazzelli, gave great support to all of this work. In 1996 I visited East Timor and was able to experience the deep meaning of solidarity: sharing accounts of these UK peace actions and bringing home stories of hope and nonviolent resistance by the East Timorese. Hosting the Pax Christi International Council in London in 1997, we invited Fr Domingos Soares to come from East Timor and receive the Cardinal Alfrink Peace Award, along with Maria de Lourdes Martins Cruz, in recognition of their work for peace.

If the start of the 90s brought hopes of a peace dividend, 1998 brought hope for Northern Ireland with the Good Friday Agreement. Pax Christi’s Northern Ireland group had been working for years in partnership with Pax  Christi Ireland and others – building bridges, creating volunteering opportunities, speaking out about the abuse of human rights and more. Fresh approaches to ‘winning the peace’ were called for and we organised a           conference in 1998 on the theme Reconciliation and the Healing of Memories and in 2001 Northern Ireland: Reconciling a Divided Community.

Formation in peace and nonviolence has always been a priority for Pax Christi with support from the Christian Peace Education Fund, established in 1982. We co-founded and subsequently facilitated PEN, with its annual conferences all through the 1990s and early 2000s. We developed training within other institutions including the Missionary Institute London where we helped initiate an MA in applied theology: The Peace & Justice Mission Studies programme. We have run courses in active nonviolence with the Conference of Religious, students in pastoral ministry, prison chaplains, and St Ethelburga’s Centre for Peace and Reconciliation. Throughout the 90s we worked    ecumenically with the Churches Peace Forum producing resources and workshops for the World Council of Churches’ Programme to Overcome Violence. We contributed to the powerful training scheme arranged for the Jubilee Year 2000 by the National Justice and Peace Network (NJPN) and have co-hosted three annual conferences with NJPN on peace-related themes. This accumulated experience underpins our current work on nonviolence with the Vatican.

A constant in our outreach and education has been Peace Sunday.  Since it began in 1967 Pax Christi has played a unique role in amplifying the World Peace Day message through homilies, prayers, discussion questions, children’s activities, giving every parish in England and Wales the opportunity to celebrate the theme and deepen awareness of the peace teaching of the Church.

Writing now in the eighteenth year of the ‘War on Terror’, I recall work initiated in 2002 by theologians and members of Pax Christi who produced the Declaration on the Morality and Legality of the War Against Iraq. Gathering the public support of hundreds, including prominent church leaders, we were thrust into the limelight of national TV and press.  That declaration helped to create a critical momentum around the country casting grave doubt on the war. We heard that Downing Street was fed up with these outspoken Christians. With CAAT and other Christian groups we launched the Called to Conversion message that, though called to be peacemakers, as a nation we sow the seeds of war. We devised petitions, tools, liturgies, which enabled groups to engage in arms-trade campaigning with various government departments over several years.

After years of global polarity which saw security framed almost exclusively in terms of military strength, we began to consolidate our approach. With the Fellowship of Reconciliation we produced Security for the Common Good – a document arguing the case for redirecting money away from military defence, nuclear deterrence, the arms trade, and towards investment in human, sustainable security. We became a key organiser of the annual Global Campaign on Military Spending, providing a dedicated website and popular campaign materials. These encouraged people to take to town centres, cafés, schools, government departments, and stimulate  political debate by offering ‘people’s budgets’ that prioritise education, health, climate change over military spending. With the Network for Christian Peace Organisations (NCPO) we developed this approach in several General Election briefings and, more recently, briefings on Trident and the Nuclear Weapons Ban Treaty.

In 1999 Patriarch Michel Sabbah became Pax Christi’s International President at our world assembly in the Middle East. Taking part in delegations and organising visits to Palestine opened new partnerships with Palestinian and Israeli peace groups. The Separation Wall was being built, along with other ‘facts on the ground’ that made daily life for Palestinians impossible and enshrined the illegal occupation of Palestine. Our support for the Ecumenical Accompaniment Programme in Palestine and Israel (which led to several members becoming volunteers), campaigns such as People need Bridges not Walls, and the Week of  Prayer for Palestine and Israel, have allowed us to become a voice for our partners and engage in education and advocacy work. One gift of this partnership is the Pax Christi ICON of Peace, created in Jerusalem, presenting stories of peacemaking and reconciliation across time and many traditions. Since 2004 the ICON has been exhibited in British cathedrals, schools, prisons and parish churches – an inspiration for prayer throughout the ‘100 Days of Peace’ surrounding the 2012     Olympics, and at the 2018 Eucharistic Congress.

Through the great communication shift – websites, Facebook, Twitter, online shopping, e-newsletters – our message today reaches a much wider national and international community. Providing sound alternative news, advocacy tools, accessible education resources, notice of events and campaigns, reports about the work of members – this has become a priority for us. At the same time we produce high quality ‘paper’ resources, from study packs to seasonal reflections, assemblies for schools, Peace People stories, postcards that celebrate women peacemakers or spread the message, No More War, Let’s Build Peace. Let’s not forget internal developments, the move to Hendon in 1998, several changes in staffing, new systems for data-management and accounting. The unfailing support of our President, Archbishop Malcolm McMahon, our members and volunteers – all contribute to the wonderful service that our small staff team offers to the Church and the peace movement.

The words and gestures of Pope Francis affirm our work and encourage us to be even bolder in future. The arms trade is ever more aggressive. Technologies are shifting to the dangerous world of automation, drone warfare and killer robots. Financial investments still support the weapons’ industry and unjust structures in Israel and Palestine. Our young people are increasingly vulnerable to knife and gun violence. We face these challenges in our national context and, through the Catholic Nonviolence Initiative, work with the Vatican to address the deep roots of violence, to forge a new moral teaching and practice. The potential of the Church to be a model and a powerhouse for active nonviolence is immense. Our task is to build a community of peace people who will help release this power.

 

 

 

I am Pax Christi, Women and Peacemaking

The #IamPaxChristi interview: Martha Okumu of Peace Tree Network, Kenya

In this latest installment of the #IamPaxChristi interview, we’re profiling Martha Okumu of Peace Tree Network which is based in Nairobi, Kenya. This series aims to highlight short conversations with the women and men who make up our movement. The interview was conducted over email.

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How did you become involved with peace and justice work? What led you to do this kind of work?

I got involved in peace and justice when a college friend introduced me to a peace organisation which employed me. It was an eye opener in the sense that I had previously not interacted with civil society and community based organisations. I worked there for a period of two years and gained experience in peacebuilding and conflict transformation, advocacy, mediation and dialogue. The organisation was mainly involved in conducting workshops, hosting peace forums and offering certificate training courses in partnership with one of the Catholic Universities in Kenya.

With time I realised that I did enjoy the work and getting to learn about the genesis of conflict and the existing resolution mechanisms that existed needed to utilise in addressing the conflict issues. With this, I later found myself working for Peace Tree Network which works and partners with the community in developing conflict resolution mechanisms as well as enhancing the capacities of community members, especially the youth and women with skills in resolving/preventing conflict.

During your time at Peace Tree Network, what do you think is the greatest contribution that Peace Tree Network has made to the people you serve? Is there something that you recall in your work that you think really led to a positive change?

One of our greatest achievements was working with the youth in Mt. Elgon region in Kenya during the 2007/2008 violent conflict inflicted on the community by the SLDF which was a militia group. The violence was a result of the perceived marginalisation of a section of the community during the land allocation exercise by the government. As a result, a militia group made up of the youth from the community that felt marginalised started to terrorise people living in the areas of Kopsiro, Kipsigon, Cheptais, Kaptama and Kapsokwony. This led to people deserting their homes, rape, destruction of property, and physical and mental trauma.

At this point, Peace Tree Network identified and partnered with youth leaders, local organisations, and the church, as well as the local administration in identifying activities that would bring the parties in conflict together; we had a series of dialogues to help identify and resolve the issues of concern. We also had workshops and trainings in peacebuilding and conflict transformation with the aim of equipping the community with skills for finding alternatives to conflict as well as identifying latent issues that could lead to an eruption of conflict.

Martha Okumu in white shirt, 2nd from left.

Bringing in the local administration was important, as the local community were hostile to them, and this resolved the lack of sharing information that would lead to a peaceful resolution of the conflict. We also partnered with the security agents and organised ball games between them and the youth; this helped in mending relationships that had been broken.

This was a process that went on for a number of years, and, in concluding our project in 2016, we initiated a Peace Connectors Project whose aim was not only to build the skills of the youth in peacebuilding but also to economically empower them with life skills and identify income-generating activities, like communal farming, that brings together parties in conflict to work together. In the process, they learn about each other and discuss contentious issues amongst themselves. We also implemented table banking whereby the members would contribute towards an income-generating activity — in this case, the buying and selling of grains. The profit made would be ploughed back into the business while at the same time members would make their monthly contribution which would be lent out and repaid with a small interest on the principal borrowed. At the conclusion of this project, we had trained over 1000 trainers of trainers in peacebuilding and conflict transformation in Mt. Elgon who still are active in preaching peace.

We like to believe that our work has positively impacted people and led to meaningful changes in their lives. One instance that stands out for me would be an incident that happened last year in the Kinondo area in Kwale County after the announcement of the winner of the seat being vied for in the General Elections. The presiding officer announced the winner (this was later reversed and a new election was held on 18 April 2018) of the political seat despite having two candidates having the same number of votes. This led to a situation whereby the supporters clashed, leading to heightened tension in the area. In partnership with our partners on the ground as well as participants that had previously gone through our trainings, we managed to bring the parties in conflict together in a forum where they vented their displeasure on what had happened and agreed to conduct themselves in a peaceful manner while campaigning for their candidate and respecting the decision of the IEBC. This made the people aware that they could agree to disagree without escalating the situation to violence, and we also learnt the importance of providing a platform for people to address issues that negatively affect them.

What does nonviolence mean to you personally and professionally? How would you describe it? Is it important to your work?

Nonviolence to me is when one uses peaceful means when resolving conflict without forcing their will on others so as to bring about change.

Martha Okumu, center, at the Nonviolence in Africa conference in Johannesburg, South Africa, December 2016.

I would also say that through the use of dialogue, advocacy and skills enhancement, we try to bring about social change, justice and political change in our society.

Nonviolence is important to our work as our mission is to develop and maintain collaborative relationships among people and peace actors to develop sustainable peace, and this can only be achieved through dialogue, finding points of collaboration, and working through our differences peacefully so as to bring about change.

Is there someone who has been influential in your life in terms of the work you do for peace and justice? Someone you admire or who inspired you?

I would say I have been inspired by a number of people during one stage of my life or another. Initially, when starting out, I was inspired by my friend who introduced me into this line of work as the dedication and interest that I saw in him made me want to get involved.

After working with the community, I would say there are two people in Mt. Elgon (Sakong) and one in Kwale County (Barroh) who stand out as they are devoted to their community and are willing to sacrifice themselves in order for the voices of the community to be heard; to me, this is remarkable and selfless. This makes working in this field worthwhile as they are a source of inspiration.

What does it mean to you to be part of the Pax Christi International network?

For us, being part of the Pax Christi International network is an opportunity to share our experiences, work together and share our values to bring meaningful change in the world. It also signifies a platform for positive change through its advocacy platform which has a wide reach that helps in transforming the lives of people it touches.

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.