Nonviolence, Peace Spirituality, Social Issues

Treat others the way you want to be treated yourself: Peace within one’s own society

by Rev. Paul Lansu
Senior Policy Advisor, Pax Christi International

To work on peace in one’s own society constitutes working on opportunities for everyone. Of central importance is the notion of human dignity for everyone. Human dignity and security are the same for everybody and shall be inclusive. It is important for every individual to experience leading a meaningful life. In order to do so, people require sufficient opportunity to think and act.

This reflection is based on the notion that our own society has both ‘domestic’ and ‘foreign’ elements: It is small, it houses a diverse array of people, languages and cultures, and it displays an open attitude to the world. Our own society is concerned both with domestic and global injustice. Our regions encounter tensions from abroad like (armed) conflicts between population groups through migration.

There are so many things that move us and that could shape concrete initiatives to strengthen democracy and peace in our own society. In order to contribute to peace in our own society in a meaningful way, we shall search the depth and the width of what moves us; through the ensuing peace spirituality, we shall make a difference in our society and in the international community.

From the experience of injustice to indignity

The road to peace in our own society starts with one’s own perception and experience of injustice, unfairness and immorality. A high degree of indignity accompanies this process. This human reaction can lead to passivity or activity and – in case of the latter – either to nonviolent action or to armed resistance (such as the new IRA[1]).

Radicalisation can be both violent and non-violent. To think radically can lead to radical behaviour. People can radicalise, with different outcomes as a result: From the Occupy movement to Al-Qaeda or IS (Islamic State). In the past, such as in the 1980s, we knew both radical extreme-right and extreme-left groups in Europe that did not shy away from the use of force. Left- and right-wing extremism continues to exist and religious fanaticism has become more visible.

It is important to systematically analyse why people radicalise. What is the situation? How do they think? How do they behave and how does this evolve? Society should seek to act preventively with regard to extremely radical behaviour.

It is important to be aware of feelings and sentiment as these can contain cues that something is not right. They point to possible problems in the environment that require attention. This indicative function of feelings is an important factor in human behaviour.

Political radicalism is the consequence of isolation and threats, which result in strong communal feelings among group members, but which also speaks of the experience of being excluded from the larger environment. Others are confronted with an unclear identity, perceptions of exclusion, humiliation, and direct experiences of discrimination, racism and exclusion.

Working toward social change

Our society is not perfect and requires a patient and consistent approach when it comes to working toward social change. Change starts bottom-up. If people feel like they are being treated unjustly and experience injustice within society, this can nourish forms of social unrest and can lead to a strong need for societal change.

We shall transform our individual or collective indignation into responsibility and action. Peaceful actions have the power to transform social questions, injustice and conflict into social change and they shall promote the common good. Most people are social beings who consider honesty and justice important and who want to do the right thing.

Aspects of social imperfections

The societal challenges that we see both in our own environments and globally are centred around poverty; employment; migration and asylum seekers; the use of social media and Internet; global warming and/or climate change. Gender inequality constitutes another problem: in many regards, women are being treated differently. This is a huge injustice that also hinders development: the productivity of many population groups is severely hindered because women are denied opportunities. Other examples, within Western societies, that require our attention concern sufficient educational opportunities for children and youth, as well as the ageing of the population (an ever-growing number of people gets older and older). Care is at the heart of society!

Quality of life

Our grounding principle is that all people should be treated equally, with equal respect. This concerns decent quality of life. Authorities should treat people respectfully and should refuse to humiliate them. Sometimes, some people require a bit more help and care, and they should be able to receive that. The means to the disposal of the authorities should be distributed as equally as possible among all citizens, yet with special care for the weaker and more vulnerable. People have to be taken seriously. In general, people want to participate in society.

A just distribution of goods and means is an important basis for peaceful coexistence. Human rights offer moral guidance that help the vulnerable against the powerful. Respect for human rights constitutes a ‘basic ingredient’ for peace and for nonviolent dealings with conflict.

A nation’s richness lies with her population and her quality of life. Human development should contribute to the creation of an environment that enables people to enjoy a long, healthy and creative life. Development is a dynamic concept and entails that things can improve. A simple and basic rule is that injustices should be decreased and eliminated.

Diversity is a treasure

Our world needs more critical thought and more respectful discussions. To think critically by entering into dialogue with others. Also in public debates, there needs to be respect for all people’s equal dignity. Diversity is a treasure. Uniformity is boring!

Philosophy’s Golden Rule goes as follows: treat others the way you want to be treated.[2] This regimen also dates back to the command of charity from the Biblical book Leviticus 19:18. People desire to be treated as full members of society and want to feel like their opinion matters. Of course, this is not solely about the rights but also about the responsibilities, that all people have with regard to humanity.

Freedom of opinion is a primary right, but it also comes with certain restrictions. Some freedoms limit others. It is for instance not allowed to incite violent extremism or to idealise terrorism.

There is much to do about civilians’ identity. Someone’s loyalty should in the first place lie with complete humanity and only then with his or her country, region, religion or family. Often, a Frenchman is first and foremost a Frenchman, and only then a human being! A Christian Palestinian is a human being first and then a Palestinian. All of us are human beings first and foremost.

Displaying loyalty or identity can take place secondly, with regard to ethnicity, religion, gender, and so on. Nations can be large and diverse. India alone is home to 320 languages and 1.2 billion people. Flanders has many different dialects and most of the larger cities are home to tens of different nationalities and a mix of Christian and other religions.

Religion and society

One’s religion does not automatically lead to radicalisation. The belief in a just world may provide meaning and direction. The convergence of state and religion is not a positive thing, especially not if it is codified in the constitution. No against state religion doctrine! No against religious ideology! But yes against a doctrine of freedom of religion that provides the necessary protection of human possibilities and equality with regard to religion.

The free practice of religion is a given. A situation in which a religious majority is dominant vis-à-vis religious minorities is an unhealthy situation. Here too, the rule states that all people should be respected, no matter their religion or ideology. Minorities require equal treatment. A democracy shall protect the rights of both its majority and its minorities. This requires decent governance by the authorities.

All religions and churches shall take their responsibility for society’s well-being, but they shall do this from a viewpoint of both critical reflection and distance. One religion cannot impose its rules and laws on a population, just like an ideology should not be able to do this.

Religion can provide extra value to a population’s growth and development. Religion – from the Latin relegare or ‘to reconnect’ – can inspire public life and can stimulate moral and social behaviour. This is closely related to reconciliation work, which means the restoration of relations – reconciliare or ‘to arrange anew’.

As meaningful frame and moral compass, religions often satisfy a wide array of fundamental needs, such as the need for meaning, social identification, connection, certainty and stability. It is true that some (ab)use religion to interpret it in a violent way and to promote violence. Religion cannot and should not be used to accept and justify the use of force.

Religious singularity can be used to work toward a pluralistic society. Freedom of speech, of association and of conscience, political access, and so on, are each crucial elements of a society that protects cultural and religious pluralism.

Humanitarian interventions

Sometimes, one’s society is violated within or by a democratic state. Democracies are not perfect either. Intervention may be considered, especially in failed states. Military and economic sanctions are only justified under certain grave conditions, for instance in case of a crime against humanity like genocide.

Even when such crimes take place, intervention may often be a mistake from a strategic point of view, especially when the country in particular is sufficiently democratic and can be convinced to reject its own actions. As long as there is a reasonable chance that the democracy in question can solve the issue, intervention by force is completely unwarranted.

However, authoritarian regimes where the mechanism to resolve such severe crimes is absent – for instance through suitable criminal tribunals – provide an altogether different context. Each person who is not safe in his/her own country or society has a right to protection. We shall reject indiscriminate use of force against civilians. There is a duty to guarantee all people’s safety. Authorities have the duty to protect their civilians. A secure society is a free society.

Emotions control people and policy

Civilians’ (peaceful) coexistence is dominated by emotions. Compassion is about empathetic concern, respect and solidarity. Compassion may never be used passively or selfishly. Compassion is only real once it is used actively and when it is directed toward other people. It is important to try and understand underlying emotions. Emotions can support policy that is aimed at furthering peaceful coexistence and the notion of human dignity and equality.

Conclusion: choose nonviolence

Democratic rules can bring about the nonviolent resolution of conflict. The authorities shall allow their citizens to act in accordance with their conscience, as long as this entails that they act according to democratic principles and to norms of nonviolence. Civil obedience is acceptable when it takes place in a public, conscientious and nonviolent manner.

Active nonviolence is a way of life and a way of treating others. We shall work towards a ‘warm’ society in which everyone is respected, no matter their beliefs or origins, a society free from prejudice, discrimination and repression. We shall cooperate with other religions and ideologies and work towards trusting one another.


Lent, Peace Spirituality

Lent 2019: Reflection for Fourth Sunday of Lent – No person may be lost; God’s mercy is inclusive

by Rev. Paul Lansu
Senior Policy Advisor, Pax Christi International

[Ed. Note: This is the fifth in a series of reflections throughout Lent from Rev. Paul Lansu. Reflections on the Sunday readings will be posted each week on the Friday before the Sunday which the reflection references. Holy Day reflections will be posted the day before the actual Holy Day. See all of these reflections and other resources at this link.]

Jos 5:9a.10-12 | Ps 34 (33) | 2 Cor 5:17-21 | Lk 15:1-3, 11-32

It is good to come home after a tiring workday, or after a long stay elsewhere. Back home — to know and to feel that you are welcome in a warm and loving environment. Unfortunately, this is not a given for everyone. We think of the many refugees who camp at borders or in railway stations and who do not know where they will ever be at home again.

We also think in this Lenten time of the people in countries such as Colombia or Guatemala. The Lenten fasting campaign reminds us about people in these or other countries where mighty companies and large landowners try to deprive them of their home and land. But people go into peaceful resistance. The desire to come home lives in each of them and also in us. People need ground under their feet and a roof over their heads to feel at home.

Opening a new future

Coming home may also be the youngest son in the gospel after taking a serious step into the world. Before that happened, he had gone through a whole process in himself. He comes to think, says the gospel. But it is stronger: he comes to himself. He now realizes who his father really is, the father he left behind. With that father he can return home unconditionally. In the process that brings him to that recognition, he also recognises himself as a son again. Now he knows who he is: child of his father, at home in the love of his father. If you can come home so well that you can be acknowledged and accepted in spite of everything you have done, then that is really a reason to party.

For the prodigal son, the past became irrelevant. The present became concrete, opening up a new future. He broke free of the chains of humiliation and guilt caused by earlier selfish mistakes. He trusted another, one whom he knew had once loved him, to be loving enough to give him a new start. He trusted himself enough to take it. Often it is this latter ingredient that is missing when we need to turn to our Father or to one another for forgiveness and reconciliation. Despite this hesitancy, we must never defer the opportunity to let go of selfishness, guilt or hurt in order to be reconciled.

Characters in conflict

The gospel story tells us also about the oldest son who never left home and worked hard all his life. But has it ever really been his home? Has he ever really known his father as he is: all love? Or did that father stay with him only from a distance, demanding and never granting him anything? In fact, the eldest son was never really a son and the father was not really ‘father’ to him. How it ends for that eldest son remains open in the story. The choice is there for us. Which way do we want to go? Refuse the love of the father, or go through the process that brings us back home with him?

We are allowed to listen to the call that emanates from people elsewhere: from people in Guatemala or Colombia who want to live in peace; from people who want a home for their children and themselves. They call us to know that we are connected to them, to share their desire that there is a home for everyone. Hearing that call can help us recognise ourselves as who we really are: children of the same Father, of a God who makes us brothers and sisters.

Life is a series of decisive moments strung together by daily routine and ongoing creativity. It is good to recall and to savour, if not always to celebrate, these key moments when the “Yes” or the “No”, the “I will” or the “I will not”, the “I’ll stay” or the “I’ll leave,” changed our lives forever. Recognising and owning such moments awakens us to the realisation that the quality of daily life and of our lifestyle, as well as of our future, is sometimes much more under our control than we care to take responsibility for. Blaming others for the ills of the world, real and imaginary, is very often quite pointless. Being willing to choose the better option in every humdrum situation enables us to go for the gold at the major decisive moments when they arise.

God’s mercy is the new sound in the gospel. The story of a father whose heart still goes out to that runaway youngest son. On his return he sees him from afar. He kisses him, puts him in new clothes and gives him another ring on his finger. And there must be a party. But the father also wants the oldest son who feels the short end of things. He is looking for the eldest son. He listens to his anger and his annoyance. But the father disarms and brings together both the oldest and the youngest son. God’s mercy is inclusive. A new beginning is possible.

Reconciliation is restoring broken relations

A key task of the Christian peace movement is the restoration of broken relations. This reconciliatory work must take place on all levels: individually, within one’s own family and society, and between population groups, nations and religions. Reconciliation is only possible when the various parties acknowledge fault (and are ashamed of past mistakes), ask for, and receive forgiveness. Injustice remains injustice and that is something we should point out. Fault is something we must acknowledge and confess to. We shall respect and return everyone’s dignity. It comes down to a willingness to start over again. Willingness to reconcile is the turning point.

A certain measure of empathy is needed to imagine someone else’s pain, hurt and mistakes. This is a reciprocal process. You must think with your heart and feel with your mind. Reconciliation is not possible without having first put yourself in another’s shoes. In times of crisis, it is also a matter of learning from and living with changes.

iconIcon of reconciliation

For many years Pax Christi sections and many faith groups have been working with the “Icon of Peace and Reconciliation of Pax Christi International.”[i] The icon offers a deep spirituality about forgiveness and restoration of relations. Thinking together, meditating and exchanging ideas about the big challenges of the present day and looking for solutions that leads to new cooperation and possible reconciliation.

Lent is a key stage in our relationship with God. There is no doubting the offer of the Father’s merciful reconciliation and the opportunity of new beginnings. It is accepting or not this offer that is our decision. The prodigal son decided wisely and came home to the one who loved him. God leaves nobody behind.




Photo credit: Rembrandt’s Return of the Prodigal Son


Nonviolence, Peace

Investing in a caring, open and inclusive society

by Paul Lansu
Senior Policy Advisor, Pax Christi International

A Dutch version of this article is available by clicking here.

Lately, more and more people in Europe are saying that military expenses should be raised. External pressure is increasing, especially within the NATO-context.

The idea of European nuclear deterrence is on the rise again as well. There is talk of a European “Pax Atomica”, as a response to the supposed internal and external security threats (including terrorism, migration, cyber-hacking, etc.). However, it remains to be seen whether nuclear weapons would be an adequate response to those threats. They are not effective as deterrents since they do not prevent attacks or terrorist acts. A few countries that possess nuclear weapons (including the United States, the United Kingdom, Turkey, Germany, France, and Belgium) have experienced such acts over the last few decades. Possession of nuclear weapons – weapons of mass destruction – is illegal, immoral and dangerous. This does not even take into account accidents, near-accidents and incidents.

Defence budgets are already immense. Weapons kill, even if they are not used. The cost of weapons is so high that their production often comes at the expense of other means that meet the most fundamental needs of people – with all the tragic – sometimes deadly – consequences that entails.

Security demands more than following military logic. Many politicians and experts believe that one should have and use sufficient military resources in order to counter security threats. One indeed needs adequate military means to protect a population, in situations of self-defence. This makes military cooperation comprehensible. But ‘security’ is a complex matter. It is related to a high degree to the quality of our society and the lives of its citizens. Not just military, but also more socio-economic means, are needed for this.

Nations are concerned with themselves

We find that certain politicians solely gaze ‘inward’, thereby neglecting, or even looking down on, the international or multilateral level. Certain countries are solely concerned with themselves and deploy a protectionist discourse. One’s own needs first! Multilateral bonds like the European Union and the United Nations are showing cracks and have to prove their legitimacy. Communal values such as cooperation, solidarity and human rights have come under review. This is a dangerous trend, since many of the social challenges we are faced with today (migration, the refugee crisis, terrorism, climate change, economic crises, tensions between citizens, etc.) demand an increasingly communal approach on the regional and national level.

Every crisis does, however, offer new chances. There is a need for more humane measures that can stimulate a peaceful society on all levels, not least the local level. In this way, one can invest in “human security”, in the citizens’ safety. A nation is measured based on its care for human and planet, both of which are vulnerable. We should thus invest in conflict solution systems, including “early warning” systems, and on the timely detection of injustice and tensions that could lead to conflict. It is important that countries and international organisations set out strong policies concerning prevention and conflict management and that they also provide non-military means.

In many cases the use of violence is related to political motivations and bad relations. Political violence is often the result of unmentionable and unmentioned disagreements and misunderstanding. Therefore it is necessary to break political and social taboos and to strengthen relationships. In our chaotic world, politics could function as a moral compass. However, this requires leadership and courage, things the world badly needs. In the years to come, new leaders will hopefully rise – also from the younger generations – so that confidence can return.

Forms of terror

We are being confronted with the globalisation of extremism and religious violence. Terror was brought close by the attacks in Europe and boosted feelings of fear. This fear should be taken seriously and should be brought into perspective.

Terror knows many forms and political backgrounds. Before the 9/11 attacks, post-war Europe knew periods of political unrest and terror as well. Some examples:

  • In the Spanish Basque country, the Basque secessionist movement ETA carried out terrorist attacks for years, in order to enforce their demand for independence.
  • Armed paramilitary groups terrorised Northern Ireland from the late sixties until 1998. The ‘troubles’ of sectarian violence between two populations – Catholics and Protestants – was political, ‘ethnic’, social and religious in nature. Splinter factions of the Irish Republican Army (IRA) continued with their terrorist acts, also within the framework of criminality and the drug trade.
  • The seventies and eighties were characterised by extreme leftist and Marxist terrorist movements that carried out a series of attacks on politicians, police and industrialists. Germany had the Baader-Meinhof group and the Rote Armee Fraktion, Italy had the Red Brigades. The Cellules Communists Combatants or CCC operated in Belgium during the eighties.
  • In Belgium, the so-called Bende van Nijvel carried out a series of deadly raids on department stores during the eighties. Although they hardly made off with any loot, they were considered a criminal group. The perpetrators were never found.
  • The largest terrorist act that took place in post-war Europe in the previous century was the bomb attack on the railway station in Bologna. Eighty-five people were killed and more than 200 people were wounded. Several members of the neo-fascistic NAR (Nuclei Armati Rivoluzionari) were charged with the attack.

The list containing all the terrorist groups in the world is long and the motivations differ depending on the political context. The European Union, the United States and the United Nations created a list with terrorist groups, partly for their sanction and security policies. Hamas in Gaza, Hezbollah in Lebanon and the New People’s Party (NPP) in the Philippines are examples of such groups.

Violence – not in the name of religion!

In the 21st century our world is once again confronted with religiously inspired violence, ‘theo-terror’. The attacks on the Twin Towers in New York and the Pentagon in Washington, D.C. on 11 September 2001 are a decisive and unprecedented fact hereof. They can be seen as the globalisation of terror. Within this framework we know Al-Qaeda and the Islamic State (IS/Daesh). Most combatants for IS come from Iraq and Syria, but since they have recruited tens of thousands, mostly young combatants from foreign countries, we can by now speak of them as an international group. About 30 to 40.000 foreign fighters joined IS in 2015. Many of them come from other Arabic countries like Tunisia, but also from regions like Chechnya and from Western countries. We know of similar Islamist terrorist groups in Libya and Nigeria (Boko Haram).

Members of religious communities who call for violence and war misuse or make false interpretations of religion. Violence can never be justified in the name of religion. Only peace is “holy”.

Is the West to blame?

Boko Haram literally means “Western education is fake”. Boko Haram’s brutal violence against people with a different religion, women and minorities is unprecedented. According to themselves, they react to Western decadence, but their actions mainly attack and terrorise their own population.

In the past, the West has sometimes all too easily and with the use of political violence tried to enforce a certain model of society without acknowledging the traditions and culture of a population. Culture cannot and must not be simply set aside. Change must come from the people themselves and should fit with them, as this is the only way to make a model of society sustainable. The enforced democratisation process of the West has often been accompanied by neglect of singularity. This nearly always leads to strong opposition. In the past, traditional societies were all too often forced from above to modernise. Unfortunately, Boko Haram is an extreme consequence of this.

The West finds it difficult to understand the Arab world. It knows and acknowledges the complete separation of religion/church and state. Within the Arab world, there is a deeper layer of “connective tissue” that is formed by religion and its accompanying value system. Here, one cannot clearly distinguish between politics and religion, since religion is related to life.

No impunity – but care and integration

Diplomats reckon that the end of IS in Iraq and Syria is near and that a great deal of Syria-fighters will start returning to our countries. What should be done about all those IS-fighters? Syria-fighters that have returned are currently being imprisoned. For each of them a fitting rehabilitation process is necessary. Impunity is out of the question, but a one-sided focus on criminalisation is dangerous as well.

One group of these former IS-fighters wants to readjust and integrate into their original communities. Our society should take the necessary measures and should involve their surroundings, families and acquaintances.

A second group could constitute a great danger. They keep on resisting the West, which they perceive to be the source of all evil. Brainwashing and sectarian thinking, including the use of violence, is deeply rooted within some of them. The intention to carry out terrorist acts remains a realistic possibility. Belgium therefore has threat level 3, which means that terrorist acts remain a possibility.

Inequality and exclusion are increasing

There are numerous explanations for the fact that so many young people are attracted by armed and brutal violence. In the Global South an enormous group of young people has no prospect for a decent existence.

But many young people in the ‘rich’ West also feel excluded from the job market, from education or from society itself. They are searching for a connection, for an identity, for a sense of belonging. Where do I fit in? With which section of the population can I identify myself? With which norms and values, religion or ideology?

Religion has much to offer: rules of life, inspiration, social relations, solidarity and peace, hope and identity, the offer of a framework and an outlook. Religion can give someone something to hold onto in uncertain times. Religions should focus on the needs of the most vulnerable people in society: the hungry, the poor, the refugees, etc.

Change starts locally

We in the West should not dehumanise ‘the other’. ‘Othering’ does not get us anywhere and should cease. Polarisation and thinking in terms of groups, which often results in the exclusion of the other, can degenerate into anger and violence.

These are boon times for nationalism and populism, both of which create an atmosphere of closed societies. We have to stand up for real emancipation and integration of all groups into society, at all levels. Then we are building an open society, not building walls between groups of people. An “open society”, like all change, starts at the local level.

It could even help if people had a place, small-scaled, where they could come together and talk over problems. Political participation, especially that of young people, is a prerequisite for a well-functioning and critical society of citizens.

The good news is that many such small integration initiatives take place locally and cultivate learning to live together. Standing up for solidarity is happening on an international level as well, with actions such as the Lenten campaigns of the Catholic Church, Jesuit Refugee Services, Caritas International, United Network of Young Peace Builders, etc. There is a large choice of initiatives and this brings hope for change.


Nonviolence as a path to reconciliation in Sri Lanka

By Fr. Stephen Ashok OMI
Centre for Society and Religion

Note: The following story was submitted to the Nonviolence and Just Peace conference in Rome in April 2016. Conference participants were invited to share short reflections on their own experiences of nonviolence and peacemaking.

Sri Lanka suffered a 30 year-old war which brought suffering to many people both in the North and South of the country equally, irrespective of class, clan, creed and nationality. But among those, the ones who most suffered were the children. Some lost both their parents and others lost only one and even the parents who survived were physically handicapped due to injuries. The children of the northern part of the country were the real victims of the 30 year old curse. They grew up in an unhealthy environment where they saw nothing but the calamity and the destruction of war from morning to evening. These experiences led a lot of the children to a traumatic situation, so much so that they could not even concentrate on their elementary education. Childhood fantasies were so far away for them.

stephenashoknjpcThe Centre for Society and Religion, popularly known as CSR, began the mission of rehabilitating the victims of war soon after the war ended in 2009. This mission was called “the ministry of presence” and attention was focused on people who lived in the Internally Displaced Persons (IDP) camps. At the very beginning, CSR did nothing but just be with the victims, listening to them, trying to look for ways and means of getting support to fulfill their basic human needs such as food, clothing, sanitation and medication.

As the IDPs were settled and the camps were slowly removed, CSR launched into the second step of the mission in 2013; it was called, “the project of peace and reconciliation”. The IDPs who were settled in a particular divisional secretariat called NEDUNKERNY were chosen as the geographical area and 5 villages of this area became the mission territory of CSR. These were among the many villages where the war was thick and heavy towards the last stage and therefore people were severely affected by the loss of lives and property. CSR rented a small house in the middle of these 5 villages and called it “CSR Centre–Nedunkerny”, and a staff of 5, including two reverend nuns, were recruited to carry out the mission.

The mission contained many components such as forming women and farming groups, supporting them with livelihood programs, giving people a rights-based education, and also promoting nutrition and education among children. As children were the most affected segment of war, our special attention was focused on this particular component.

We started with a small group of children, between 20-30, and started working with them. We taught them English and mathematics and fed them with a snack during the classes. Gradually the number started increasing. We found that some of them were extremely traumatized, and obviously it was due to what they have seen and experienced. We recruited volunteers among them to teach the children, and today, after 3 years, we have 183 children. Almost all the children of the nearby village government school are coming to our centre, and so we are now invited by the principal of the school to teach the children in the school as well. This year is our last year of implementing this program, and we have called it “the exit strategic year”. After 4 years we expect the villages to move on all by themselves.

The strength and opportunities I see

Right from the very beginning in 2009, my experience was that the most important tool of working with these victims was nothing but our openness and willingness to reach them as “a group of our own” and NOT as a group outside who needed our help. As we were a group coming from the South to work with them, initially their reaction was not very positive, as it was the Southerners who fought the war against them. But eventually the relationship grew and they started feeling comfortable with us. This was very visible in children. We always identified ourselves with them and used inclusive language all the time. We were neither judgmental nor critical of anything related to them. We honestly accepted their feelings and empathetically received them as they are. Thus in the midst of violence and conflict of war, we found that our ways of thinking, listening and speaking in ways that awaken compassion and generosity between ourselves motivated us to reach each other without fear or guilt.

Let me tell you that this a noticeable change in approach towards each other by the two ethnic communities which is now seen not only in CSR but also in the entire country. People of the south are more compassionate towards the people in north who suffered immensely due to war. The change of political regime in 2015 has given a huge boost for a lasting and sustainable political solution to the ethnic problem. The civil society is more active and aware of their rights and duties as “citizens” of the country. The ongoing discussions towards drafting a new constitution is a great opportunity for the people of the country to rectify most of the loop holes which paved the way to a lot of differences between nationalities, religions and languages.

Where and how the energy should be invested towards a deeper and wider practice of nonviolence within the Catholic community

As our attempts were very successful and fruitful with children and became a good investment towards a sustainable future in Sri Lanka, I feel that the Church in Sri Lanka too must consider the same as a good vineyard for her future mission. The children and youth are the best components where the Church could invest her energy to link the 2 ethnic communities. The Buddhists in Sri Lanka are Sinhalese and they mostly live in the southern part of the country. The Hindus are Tamils and they mostly live in the north. But the Catholics in Sri Lanka are both Sinhalese and Tamils and they live not only in North and South but also in East and West. Therefore the Church in Sri Lanka has a very good fertile soil where she could plant the seeds of nonviolent communication for a deeper reconciliation, starting with the children and youth. They are a sure way of building the bridge between the 2 ethnic communities, not only in the Catholic Church, but also in the entire country.

The other important area where the Church in Sri Lanka could invest her energy is to get actively involved in contributing to the formation of the new constitution which is currently the hot topic in the country. These days all over Sri Lanka, different sectors and classes of people are pooling their opinions to a committee appointed by the government whose duty is to submit a report to the Parliament on “public recommendations towards the new constitution”. Unfortunately the Church in Sri Lanka is very backward in getting involved in these types of issues. But these are golden opportunities for the Church to influence and promote her theories of nonviolent communication.


Colombia: What we have won by losing

by Francisco de Roux

We had issued an invitation to a vote of conscience, with full respect to those who think differently, to participate in the referendum, making it clear that we would accept and build from the result, whatever it was.

In good conscience, we explained the reasons that led us to fight for a Yes vote, convinced that it was best for the country and that our reasons would convince the majority, and we lost.

We did not fight for the political future of President Santos, nor against the political future of former President Uribe, nor were we fighting for the political future of the FARC. We cared only to be able to live as human beings. This was the reason for our struggle.
We struggled to overcome the spiritual crisis in the country that plunged us into our own destruction as human beings. We dreamt of taking a first step by approving the negotiations with the FARC, but we did not achieve this aim. Probably because we ourselves are part of the crisis, as the Colombians we are.

Thank God, Colombia is a democracy. And democracy, with its call for the people to make decisions, has the virtue of making us all face reality, whether we like it or not. As Machando’s couplet says: “The truth is what it is, and remains true though we may think the opposite.”

And yet this truth, the result of the referendum, may be the way that leads us to overcome the deepest of our problems – namely, ourselves – people who, as evidenced by this vote, exclude one another, are unable to grapple together on deep issues; and with the knowledge that our animosities and aggression – expressed in politics, in the media, in academic and faith-based debates, and within families – have lethal consequences among rural communities, and in the madness of war, where our young lose their lives, while other serious problems of the country remain unresolved.

Fortunately the statement of President Santos has given solace to all, because he has recognized the victory of “No” as a democratic outcome, maintained the bilateral ceasefire, called for a rethinking of the peace agreements incorporating those who won, and ordered government negotiators to resume dialogue with the FARC within the new political reality.

It is also important is to emphasize the constructive and conciliatory attitude of former President Uribe, who reiterated his will for peace, invited the FARC to continue in negotiations, and spelled out the legal, institutional, social and economic conditions that those who voted No consider essential for incorporating in the agreements.

We have to accept with realism and humility that we must reexamine ourselves. Perhaps we had not accepted the uncomfortable notion that we are part of the problem, and precisely because we are part of the problem, part of the crisis, our responsibility to be part of the solution becomes more salient.

This is the time to listen to one another, to understand and reconcile with those who, for social, political, institutional and ethical reasons, think differently; to accept our differences; to examine from all viewpoints, what is it that each person must change, so that all of us may live in dignity and in a peace that brings us well-being to every woman, man and child.

We will maintain and intensify the enthusiasm with which we give ourselves to the cause of peace, but we will do so by incorporating others, accepting their different understandings, listening to their arguments, fears and angers, and embodying the human being that we all are.

We believe that the central elements of the agreements of Havana and the method of the peace process remain valid. Six years of work were invested by people of extraordinary courage and the most serious dedication, men and women, civilian and military who are true human treasures of Colombia, and at their side, insurgents willing to put a stop to the war who were transformed in that very process. They deserved the admiration and support of the international community. But the result of the vote shows that the agreements have to be reformed to be politically and institutionally viable in Colombia today. And what matters in the end is peace, which requires moments of heroic generosity, so that we can overcome the barbarity of political violence in an effective way in a reconciled country.
I am confident that God is accompanying us on this path. Jesus’ claim that´ the truth will set us free´ is more valid today than ever. May the truth of the result of the referendum, with all its mix of human and political realism, purify and refine this process. May we today set out to become humanly greater.

Francisco de Roux, S.J. was a participant in the historic conference on “Nonviolence and Just Peace,” co-hosted by Pax Christi International and the Pontifical Council for Justice and Peace in Rome, April 2016. De Roux has played an important role in the Colombian peace process, including persuading both sides to allow victims a voice at the negotiating table.