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Bernhard Grom SJ {*}

The Churches' Potential for Peace


From: Stimmen der Zeit, 5/2011, P. 289 et sequ.
webmaster's own, not authorized translation


This May in Kingston, the capital of Jamaica, the International Ecumenical Peace Convocation takes place. It shall bring to an end the Decade to Overcome Violence (2001 to 2010) proclaimed by the World Council of Churches (WCC) and give new impetus to the WCC plenary assembly in 2013 in Busan, South Korea. The decade was opened in 2001 in Berlin, in order to move the pursuit of peace and reconciliation "from the periphery into the center of the Church's life and witness."

Protestant and Orthodox churches from over 110 countries are members of the WCC (the Roman Catholic Church is not a member, but cooperates in a "Joint Working Group"). Their commitment to a culture of peace obviously differs quite markedly. In some regions the decade passed almost unnoticed. The churches should now analyze the forms of direct and structural violence, explore possibilities of a spirituality of active non-violence and reconciliation, inform each other about their numerous, often hidden peace initiatives, and thus sharpen the awareness of their responsibility for peace. The Declaration of Kingston also wants to harmonize the fundamental pacifism of the peace churches (Mennonites, Quakers) with the ambiguous, no longer satisfactory theory of just war by an ethics of law-preserving power, especially within the context of the United Nations. Guiding principle is the vision of a "just peace".

The WCC can thus be sure that the Catholic Church will support it without reservation. The target perspective "Just Peace" is familiar to her. By a positive concept of peace, both the encyclical "Pacem in Terris" (1963) by Pope John XXIII and the Second Vatican Council promoted a policy that prevents wars and accepts military peacekeeping only as "last resort" and within the framework of a comprehensive peace process. A pastoral letter by the German bishops has continued these considerations under the motto "A Just Peace" (2000), and the EKD memorandum "Live from God's Peace - Care for Just Peace" (2007) argues along the same lines.

But what can the churches do at all for peace, and how can their peace potential be strengthened? In view of the countless victims of war and violence who in the past decade had to be lamented, they appear to be powerless. But if, according to experts in 2010 worldwide 209 conflicts that were solved without violence - besides six wars, 22 highly violent conflicts and 126 crises with sporadical use of violence -, the prevention of violence and thus a sustainable commitment of the churches to peace has good prospects.



Between the churches a consensus on realistic small steps is developing. These are to a large extent in line with the guidelines of secular peace and conflict studies.

Accordingly, by their statements, proposals und memoranda the churches in Europe can - in conversation with other societal forces, parties and governments - give ethically justified stimuli for a development policy that is preventing violence and securing human rights and peace and - since these require money, personnel and organization - seek support by the population. Already at an early stage, they have pointed out the equitable development as a prerequisite for peace (Pope Paul VI "Development is the new name for peace"). They can complain about arms exports into regions of conflict, sue for human rights, and support the building of an international legal system through the idea of "global common good". After all, they believe in the equality of all people before God and form communities which interconnect countries and ethnicities. Churches can also within the state advocate a non-violent conflict resolution. But what about regions with a predominantly non-Christian population? There they can seek the inter-religious dialogue, which will someday result in a spiritually specifically justified commitment to nonviolence and human rights.

Churches can also take their own initiatives to arbitrate between parties - as the Community of Sant'Egidio has shown us in ending the civil war in Mozambique (1992). In many countries Christian peace services and social centers of the churches teach the civil resolution of local and regional conflicts. This is an important strategy, because since the end of the East-West conflict, most of the armed conflicts are civil wars. Churches also participate in truth and reconciliation commissions, in order to facilitate a new beginning after dictatorships and civil wars - as e.g. in 1945 "Pax Christi" promoted the reconciliation between the French, Poles and Germans.

Certainly, the yearly papal messages on occasion of the World Day of Peace (January 1st) are not a tabloid reading, and the topic of peace is neither for the Religious Education nor for the church adult education a slight fare, because it requires more reflection on complex issues than a cheap emotional pacifism. Nobody has a panacea for making peace work not only the concern of experts and of a few committed people but a matter close to the heart of whole communities. Nevertheless, it is worthwhile to address those who are approachable with persistence and to extend their circle. For as transnational communities the churches have to make an important contribution to a successful globalization by their commitment to a just peace, which is rooted in the Gospel and is seen also by non-Christians as socially relevant and modern.


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