A commentary on the Panmunjom Declaration

by Caesar D’Mello
Pax Christi Australia

Very few events in the life of the Asia-Pacific region during the last few decades match in significance the hand-in-hand walk of the leaders of North and South Korea over the strip of land at the 38th parallel on 27 April 2018. While a certain level of cynicism is to be expected, and self-interest no doubt played a part, the symbolism of that action is astonishing nevertheless, and its implications potentially far-reaching.

Who could have thought that after a bitterly fought Korean War (1950-1953) between the two Koreas, and one involving China and the US, the world would witness such a moment? To truly appreciate what might have been considered unlikely by most till the day it actually occurred, one only needs to picture the setting in which it took place. After a ferocious war that generated no peace but an uneasy and ever volatile stalemate, the enmity between the two sides remained frozen in institutionalised structures and hostilities designed to perpetuate the red hot anger of a war in which more than 3 million sacrificed their lives in vain. The land on either side of the 4 kilometre-wide strip of land that has come to be known as the Demilitarised Zone (DMZ) is a testament to hate: ringed by barbed wire, saturated with land mines, under surveillance by human and all forms of electronic eyes, supported by the Korean forces on either side, with the might of the two superpowers providing additional military muscle. The line over which Kim Jong-un and Moon Jae-in crossed, metaphorically and physically entering each other’s forbidden territory, was situated right at the heart of this menacing stretch of land least the oriented to good relations. However, their gesture, and the liberating exchange between them, despite the implausibility, demonstrated the capacity of human beings to overcome the most odious of circumstances.

Time will tell how this unprecedented event will play out into prospects and outcomes for peace for the two peoples of Korea and the world at large, but for now it is a moment worth celebrating. Even if re-unification of the Korean nation is a long time coming or does not eventuate eventually, at least for the immediate future the ground has shifted to allow a move from a prism of continually stoked confrontation through which to see each other to one of friendship and optimism for peace. Trivial though it may seem, the decision, for instance, by North Korea to synchronise their clocks with South Korea’s is potent symbolically, and, in its own way, a good portent for the future.

In light of the multiple positives that can be identified in the Panmunjom summit, Pax Christi Asia-Pacific asserts that one cannot just view the developments of a few days ago as if looking at goldfish in a fishbowl without relevance to the context of the wider region. To say that the Asia-Pacific region is awash with conflicts would be an understatement. From Iran and Afghanistan all the way to Papua New Guinea and beyond, governments, defence forces, warring groups, and their advocates are bogged down in hostility and combat. They are now challenged to find inspiration for ways forward applicable to their own situations to tread the path of peace from the actions in Korea of two of the most implacable of adversaries.

It is to be welcomed that just as the two Korean leaders were the centre of attention of the world’s media, Prime Minister Narendra Modi of India and President Xi Jin Ping of China were participating in talks to reduce the tension between their two giant countries that had been exacerbated by skirmishes on the borders between India, China and Bhutan just a few recent months earlier. Pax Christi Asia-Pacific acknowledges this as a commendable step, and hopes that it will lead to many confidence and trust-building deliberations as a precursor to lasting peace.

Another major conflict that has been entrenched in prejudice and intransigence for over seven decades is that between India and Pakistan over Kashmir that has already resulted in three wars with many killed. Its gravity is now further deepened as the two sides are nuclear-armed with the ability to inflict massive devastation on each other’s people, whose welfare and safety should be paramount in decision-making. How long should we wait before we can see a generous, visionary, mutually benefiting resolution on this front?

The Asia-Pacific is teeming with internal conflicts in big and small countries, including Sri Lanka, the Maldives, Bangladesh, Thailand, Indonesia, Cambodia, the Philippines, PNG, Fiji, to name a few countries. Forward looking leadership, in the spirit of Panmunjom, is urgently called for in these countries.

Pax Christi Asia Pacific is concerned over the opportunity costs of the focus, energy, and resources dedicated to a war or conflict drained away from more important issues, such as the quality of life. It is indefensible that the vast majority of the poor miss out as a result. The extent of poverty pervading many parts of Asia-Pacific where conflict rages is unjustifiable, and it is morally urgent that widespread inequity be addressed effectively. This has been agreed to at a global level. The world’s governments, including Asian and Pacific governments, by unanimously adopting the UN Sustainable Development Goals – SDG’s ( have accepted that a world wherein a great number of people are unable to even reach or do just reach the first level in Maslow’s ‘hierarchy of needs’, encompassing food, water, shelter, clothing, and safety, is an indictment of the prevailing system that harbours wasteful confrontations. While external and internal security is indeed the duty of governments, they have to balance this transparently and imaginatively with the obligation to look after those who miss out on the wherewithal for survival and a better life.

A Just Peace emphasising mutual respect, healing and reconciliation is far more productive of a dignified living for all rather than the shadow of conflict. However, for this to evolve requires proactive leadership from both disputing sides. While we mark the Panmunjom Summit as a historic landmark in human affairs, the persistent efforts of the President of South Korea, Moon Jae-in, to cultivate an environment for peace should also be noted. The tree of peace that both leaders planted during their Summit speaks volumes in terms of the human ability to fashion a better world. Other leaders in history have shown that this is possible, including an iconic one in recent memory, namely Nelson Mandela, whose 100th birth anniversary falls this year.

Caesar D’Mello is a member of Pax Christi Australia and has for many years been engaged in concerns of development, peace, and climate change. This commentary is released by the Pax Christi-Asia Pacific network, consisting of sections and affiliated members of Pax Christi International in the Asia-Pacific region. For more information, please contact:

* Photo from The Nation,

Three questions on development at the United Nations

by Rev. John Rausch, glmy
Pax Christi USA Teacher of Peace

“No Poverty,” “Zero Hunger,” “Good Health and Well-Being,” “Quality Education”—these are a few of the seventeen Sustainable Development Goals the United Nations ambitiously wants to achieve by 2030. Earlier this year, the 56th session of the U.N.’s Commission for Social Development convened to address the eradication of extreme poverty as a human right. Numerous non-governmental organizations shared information about best practices to promote sustainable development, and the Congregations of St. Joseph organized a side event to offer Catholic input to the Commission. I sat on that panel.

The three other panelists were clergy and religious representing Africa, India and the Philippines. Our task was to showcase success stories from impoverished communities that reflect hope for a fuller life. One panelist told about helping people living under lean-tos secure more adequate housing. Another described families making their livelihoods cooperatively through bee keeping. The third sketched the difficulties of dealing with multiple thousands of displaced people and refugees. My stories came from Appalachia where the sting of poverty can frequently be overlooked, covered up, or dismissed.

Rev. John Rausch, glmy at the UN (photo courtesy of Rev. John Rausch)

The panelists were asked three questions, and the first dealt with our motivation for eradicating poverty.

“As a person of faith,” I answered, “I recognize that Jesus associated with the downtrodden and those excluded in society. I am committed to a preferential option for the poor.”

As an economist, I know there exists enough material goods for everyone to live a decent life. “Enough in order to be more” is an ethical principle of development that says everyone has a right to enough food, clothing, shelter, education and health care in order to grow to one’s fullest potential.

“The reason people don’t have ‘enough’ is because political systems of maldistribution are based on greed,” I concluded.

The second question asked about key strategies for eliminating poverty. I applauded two previous panelists, because they described cooperatives and community organizations that gave their participants a voice, while teaching essential skills of leadership and group process. In my own work, cooperatives have been a great source of human development.

I described Appalachia as a mineral colony where outside corporations control the region, drain the profits from the area, and leave many people with no voice or choice living with pollution. Poverty in Appalachia does not mean starvation, but the lack of options, a shorter lifespan and psychic feelings of inferiority. The small community of Dayhoit in Harlan County, Kentucky, seldom sees anyone living past age 55. The incidents of cancer from pollution are astronomical.

The role of faith-based people in development must span two worlds. We need to support fledgling organizations of the oppressed like cooperatives, while challenging the hyper-consumption of the powerful. I use symbols like sowing wildflower seeds during a prayer ritual to spark a connection between a denuded mountain, consumption patterns, and the consequences for local folks and creation.

The final question asked for our advice in eradicating poverty.

“Eliminating poverty is so daunting,” I began. “Face the odds. It’s like we’re in a leaky canoe in a swift current with only tooth brushes for paddles. Headed over the falls, we raise our hands in prayer, then spot a low hanging branch that we grab for safety. The branch bends and we find ourselves on shore. We burst out laughing knowing we escaped disaster and God is smiling on us. My advice,” I ended, “in your work for justice, catch the next low hanging branch, and do it with a smile. Laughter is key to development work.”

Rev. John Rausch lives and works in Appalachia in the United States. He is a Pax Christi USA Teacher of Peace.

Lent, Nonviolence

Lent 2017: Reflection for the Third Sunday of Lent, March 19 – Water is a gift for everyone; breaking down the dividing walls

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

Exodus 17:3-7 | Romans 5:1-2, 5-8 | John 4:5-42

The Gospel readings of this period of Lent 2017 open up ever-deepening aspects of the personality of Jesus and his mission among us.

In the Gospel, Jesus spoke to a Samaritan woman in public, a woman from another background and culture. She is from a people ostracised by his own people and she is living publicly in an irregular relationship.

Water wells bring people together. Communication and meeting one another — not least with the enemy, the stranger or those from another culture — is an attitude of nonviolent resistance and is the beginning of peacebuilding. The “other” or the “unknown” encounter is not obvious. “Othering” is a form of excluding other people. It is sometimes “dehumanising” the other as an opponent. Both Christ and the woman at the well are criticised for talking to each other and for taking an interest in each other’s backgrounds. Samaritans and Jews did not mix and were encouraged to keep it that way.

However, Jesus and the woman built a bridge between the two very different cultures. He did not condemn the woman but made her the messenger of good news, despite her being regarded by others as a hated foreigner. Bridge-building is the result of an active nonviolent attitude.

Jesus did the unexpected and requested a drink from the woman. By doing so, Jesus accepts the Samaritan woman as a person: she exists! She is seen as a child of God, a person worthy of the deepest respect just like any other human individual.

He then moves to offer her a share in the life of God which he describes as “living water.” She glimpses the wonder of the moment and dashes off to share it with the neighbours. Drawing water was a humdrum part of the Samaritan woman’s life. Her generous kindness opened the way for Jesus to touch her and change her life and that of her townspeople.

Water is central to the giving of life. Clean water is one of the most precious gifts in the world. Water can give life. Ensuring access to water and sanitation for all is a major goal of the Sustainable Development Goals of the United Nations.

The witness of Christ in his public life is that he cuts through various forms of discrimination. There should be no obstacles between people(s)! Christ is breaking the cycle of violence by taking at least four steps.

Firstly, he treats men and women equally. Respect the other as he or she is.

Secondly, Jews, Samaritans or people from any other tribe all have a right to food and drink. Human rights are universal, including the right to water.

Thirdly, nobody is excluded from God’s love.

Last but not least, he showed that deeds speak louder than words. The reality is that, if you are thirsty, you don’t want endless debates about where the water comes from or who has a rightful claim to it.

Fr. Paul Lansu is Senior Policy Advisor of Pax Christi International.