This month we mark the 240th anniversary of Thomas Jefferson’s stirring words: “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.”
That passage from the Declaration of Independence shares a mutual foundation with Catholic social teaching—the dignity of mankind. Consider Pope Francis’ words on this year’s World Day of Peace: “As creatures endowed with inalienable dignity, we are related to all our brothers and sisters, for whom we are responsible and with whom we act in solidarity. Lacking this relationship, we would be less human.”
Our peacebuilding work at Catholic Relief Services is aimed at establishing—or re-establishing—that feeling of mutual responsibility and solidarity among people. We recognize that the act of reaching out to “the other” is an act of love, faith and service.
All too often this means bridging a schism between religions, as in the Central African Republic, where violence falls along a fault line between Muslims and Christians. Working in close collaboration with the Central African Inter-Religious Platform, CRS has helped train more than 1,300 religious and community leaders as ambassadors of social cohesion.
The social cohesion committees they convene bring together everyone in the community—Muslims, Christians, women, youth, village and neighborhood chiefs—to work with CRS and our partners on developing risk and resource maps, and social cohesion plans, to promote peace.
Bridges are built in these social cohesion workshops, a signature CRS program, as participants talk about conflict analysis, personal responsibility, forgiveness, leadership and practical mediation techniques.
Using metaphors helps participants visualize the dynamics of conflict. A tool called the “barometer for peace” is used to map participants’ views on the current status of social cohesion, good governance and national pride. At the end of each workshop, participants work together to draft a common vision for their country. The binding, bonding and bridging that take place in these workshops reweaves the torn social fabric across faith and ethnic lines.
In addition to July 4th, there is another independence day this month. On July 9, the world’s newest nation, South Sudan, marks 5 years since it seceded from Sudan. That day of celebration in 2011 carried a hope for peace after decades of war. Although revolutionary wars may give birth to nations, as ours did, that violence must be replaced by peace for a nation to flourish.
And now many parts of South Sudan are again torn by violence. The leaders are squabbling. The people are suffering.
CRS has worked in South Sudan for more than 30 years, and we are staying with our brothers and sisters in this time of crisis and danger. We support the Church and its bishops as they strive to build bridges among warring groups, and to replace suspicion with trust—across religious, ethnic and political lines.
Consider St. John Paul II’s words in his 1991 encyclical Centesimus Annus: “True peace is never simply the result of military victory, but rather implies both the removal of the causes of war and genuine reconciliation between peoples.”
That is the goal of our peacebuilding work—in CAR, South Sudan and wherever conflict arises—to build genuine reconciliation by getting both citizens and decision makers to assume their rights and responsibilities with accountability and integrity. Greater civic participation emphasizes responsibility and solidarity. Working together both helps resolve disputes and deliver services.
Peacebuilding is integrated into all that we do. Remember the words of Pope Paul VI, that development is “the new name for peace.”
Chronic warfare often leads us to withdraw to our own safe boundaries, looking across at the “other,” wondering why they cannot live in peace as we do. But think of our history. Within a few years of independence, this country almost came apart. A new Constitution helped Americans realize their mutual interest in working together peacefully.
Yet the evil of slavery remained. A bloody Civil War was fought before we established a nation built on Jefferson’s ideals. The travails of South Sudan—indeed, of many countries only a few decades removed from colonial rule—parallel those of the United States. It took many generations to build our own, still imperfect, roads to connect our divided peoples.
So let us stay with those seeking dignity—as our country did in 1776, as South Sudan did in 2011—as we walk together on the road to peace.
May blessings overflow,
Dr. Carolyn Y. Woo
President & CEO
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