The contribution of the Catholic Church to Peace in Africa

2013-01-15 Vatican Radio

The recently celebrated end-of-year feasts, were an opportunity to reflect on the world in which we live. The two main ones were: the Nativity of the Lord Jesus, Prince of peace, which gives us the opportunity to remember the angels singing, glory to God in the highest and peace on Earth to men that He loves; and the new year's Holiday, the solemnity of Mary Mother of God, which coincides with the World Day of Peace.
The two feasts invite us to reflect on how the world needs that peace widely evoked by Pope Benedict XVI in his Message: Blessed are the Peacemakers. Lived in the light of faith, these holidays are an opportunity to proclaim the Gospel of hope, a theological virtue that strengthens the faith and stimulates the practice of charity. Hope, as indicated in the previous Editorial, seems a utopia for the African continent, which in this period suffers in many ways the lack of that true peace which the Pope speaks about in the Message for January 1st 2013. Does the choice of the Pope, who during his visit to Benin spoke of a continent of hope, with reference to Africa, remain only a wish? In fact, we approached Christmas with the fear of scenes of carnage or bloodbaths in some countries, which in the past took place in many churches and other places of worship, and which occurred this year during the Christmas period.
In his message, Benedict XVI indicates that the real artisans of peace are those who love and defend human life in all its dimensions. In other words, a peacemaker is one who, finding himself in the midst of contradictions, whether economic or social, has the courage to act according to Christian ideals, putting at the centre the respect for the dignity of the human person in its integrity. This leads us to assume that lack of respect for human dignity is the source of all the conflicts and evils that afflict our continent. We would like to remember and appreciate the initiatives of some artisans of peace and promoters of a culture of life and love.

We begin with Archbishop Jaime Gonçalves of Beira in Mozambique, who started the initiative that brought to an end a destructive civil war in the country. Rebels of the Mozambican National Resistance (RENAMO) and government troops had fought for 20 years. Their leaders heeded to the appeal of the archbishop who stressed to them that they and the civilian population, whose lives had been disrupted by the conflict, were “brothers, members of the great Mozambican family.” This effort was also accompanied by other artisans of peace such as the Community of Santo Egidio based in Rome. The Mozambican experience shows how reconciliation is a key element in the search for peace.
Between 1986 and 2006 northern Uganda suffered the violence and injustices perpetrated by rebels of the Lord's Resistance Army. The peace initiative to end the conflict was initiated by the Acholi religious leaders under their umbrella body, the Acholi Religious Leaders’ Peace Initiative. The organisation was led by the Catholic Archbishop of Gulu, His Grace John Baptist Odama, from 2002 to 210. Thanks to this initiative, the religious leaders (Catholic, Anglican, Protestant, Orthodox and Moslem) worked together for a common cause and raised the awareness of the International Community to the sufferings endured by the people of northern Uganda.
In Congo Brazzaville the disruption of peace had its origin in the Marxist-Leninist ideology that was hostile not only to religion but also to some values of society. The Bishop of the Catholic diocese of Owando, the Rt. Rev. Ernest Kombo, initiated dialogue between church and state demonstrating, above all, the universal character of human values contained in the Commandments of God, as presented in the Bible.
The Democratic Republic of the Congo is a country, unfortunately, taken today as a symbol where the dignity of the woman is trodden upon with impunity. Recently, a group of Christians from different denominations was formed to show solidarity with women. It invites the churches to give refugee to the victims who have been criminalized or made to feel guilty by the local communities for the violence, especially rape, they have suffered at the hands of men. This gesture is witness to the commitment of believers and a sign of hope for the women, victims of rape.
Unfortunately there are still many contexts in Africa that account for lack of true peace. These include armed conflicts, the economic crises, the disintegration of the nuclear family etc. The true artisans of peace, the disciples of Christ, are called to respond to multiple challenges, working for the promotion of individual and collective freedoms, for dialogue between social groups, for the integral development of the human person, for the just social order and for the defense of the common good . All this must be accomplished in a spirit of cooperation and concerted action, inspired by the teaching of Christ himself, the first and true architect of peace. In this context, Pope Benedict XVI calls for a spiritual and moral rebirth of people and of society. The encounter with Jesus Christ forms people into artisans of peace, committing them to work for communion and for justice.

By Marie José Muando Buabualo, of the French Africa Service of Vatican Radio.
Translated by John Baptist Tumusiime