Catholic Peacebuilding Network

Enhancing the study and practice of Catholic peacebuilding

Press Release about the Conference

Church Leaders, Specialists from 20 Countries Convene in Burundi to Support Catholic Peacebuilding in Africa’s Great Lakes Region

July 28, 2006

CONTACT: Gerard Powers, Kroc Institute for International Peace Studies, University of Notre Dame; +1-574-631-3765; gpowers1@nd.edu

Fr. Patrice Minani, Conference of Catholic Bishops of Burundi; +257-22.32.63; cecab@cbinf.com
Luc Picard, Catholic Relief Services, Burundi; +257-21.43.37; lpicard@crs-burundi.org

“May the synergies created give lasting witness at the national, continental and international levels to the will of the Catholic Church to engage herself increasingly, in Christ’s name, in the promotion of justice, peace and development [in the Great Lakes region of Africa.]” This wish of Pope Benedict XVI was contained in a message to nearly 100 Catholic Church leaders and specialists in peace and reconciliation who convened in the East African country of Burundi for the Third International Conference of the Catholic Peacebuilding Network (CPN), from July 24-28. The Holy Father added that the Church contributes to peace “by taking an active role in the resolution of tensions among communities and by fighting all forms of ethnic discrimination or corruption, in calling on all of the partners concerned at the political and economic levels to become positively engaged in the disinterested service of all and in the search for the common good.”

This event comes at a critical time for the Church’s new peace and reconciliation initiatives, according to Bishop Jean Ntagwarara of Bubanza, President of the Conference of Catholic Bishops of Burundi.

“The holding of this CPN Conference is a chance, or rather a grace, a gift from God for our sub-region, so often misdirected by repetitive and interminable wars,” he said. “We hope that it will permit the international community to become more familiar with our problems, the causes of our conflicts and the efforts undertaken by the Catholic Church in trying to contribute to peace.”

“This conference,” he continued, “will strengthen the Catholic Church in her mission to promote peace, notably through preventing the outbreak of conflicts. This is a delicate task, for it consists of denouncing all of the mechanisms that risk leading countries into conflict situations.”

The conference was sponsored by the CPN, in collaboration with the Conference of Catholic Bishops of Burundi, the Apostolic Nunciature in Burubdi, and Catholic Relief Services, and with support from the Joan B. Kroc Institute for International Peace Studies at the University of Notre Dame and the German Catholic aid agency, Misereor. It was dedicated to the memory of Archbishop Michael Aidan Courtney, the Apostolic Nuncio in Burundi whose work for peace led to his murder on December 29, 2003. His successor, Archbishop Paul Gallagher, arranged for the dedication, on July 25, of a new memorial to Archbishop Courtney at the place where he was killed.

Archbishop John Onaiyekan of Abuja (Nigeria), President of the Symposium of Episcopal Conferences of Africa and Madagascar (SECAM), noted that the “problems of Africa are more and more taking regional dimensions, as the Great Lakes situation has clearly shown.” He continued, “The politicians have put up regional structures, which have not been sufficiently effective, especially as the governments are themselves often at each others’ throats. In such a situation, the Church in the region cannot but work together, to bring peace across each others’ borders.”

Bishop John Ricard (Pensacola-Tallahassee) of the International Policy Committee of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, which supported the Burundi Bishops in initiating a new, multi-year peacebuilding program, noted “the broad participation of the Church in the region in building structures of enduring peace, justice and reconciliation.” “As a representative of the U.S. Church,” he added, “I welcome your leadership and pledge our continuing solidarity in articulating Catholic teaching on peace, sharing resources and relationships, and advocating and acting together.”

The conference covered a range of issues, from the Church’s efforts to promote community-based reconciliation in Rwanda and trauma healing in Burundi to its efforts to achieve political stability in the Democratic Republic of Congo and the role of the Church in other countries in supporting these efforts.

Scott Appleby, John M. Regan Jr. Director of the Kroc Institute and a co-founder of the CPN, noted that this conference is “an example of the need for the many peacebuilders from around the world to share ‘best practices’ and for scholars to engage with those who are doing the hard work of peacebuilding on the ground.”

A diverse group of Church leaders (including 14 bishops), development experts, and academics and practitioners who specialize in peacebuilding attended the conference. They came from 20 countries, including Burundi, Rwanda and Congo, Uganda, Colombia, the Philippines, Croatia, South Africa, Mozambique, Nigeria, Germany and the United States.

Among the other speakers were Martin Nduwmana, First Vice-President of Burundi; Archbishop Paul GALLAGHER, Apostolic Nuncio in Burundi; Bishop Evariste Ngoyagoye of Bujumbura, Chairman of the Burundi Justice and Peace Commission and the Justice and Peace Commission of ACEAC, the regional conference; Archbishop François-Xavier Maroy of Bukavu (Congo); Bishop Frédéric Rubwejanga of Kibungo, President of the Rwandan Episcopal Commission for Justice and Peace; Lisa Cahill, Professor of Theology, Boston College; Cesar Villanueva (Philippines), Former Vice-President of Pax Christi International; Fr. don Francesco Tedeschiof the Sant’Egidio Community in Rome.

The CPN is a voluntary network of practitioners, academics, clergy and laity that seeks to enhance the study and practice of peacebuilding, especially at the local level. In addition to its annual conference, which will be held in Colombia in 2007 and in the United States in 2008, the CPN is sponsoring a major research project on the theology and ethics of Catholic peacebuilding, assists with peacebuilding training for Catholic leaders, and has launched a web site and listserv.

The CPN was formed in 2004, after two years of wide consultations, by the Kroc Institute and Catholic Relief Services, with the active involvement of the Office of International Justice and Peace of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, Maryknoll, the Center for International Social Development at the Catholic University of America, the Sant’Egidio Community in the United States, and Pax Christi International.

The conference program, the list of participants, papers presented at the conference, and video of the conference, will be posted on the CPN website: http://cpn.nd.edu .

Signed by:

Most Reverend Jean Ntagwarara
Bishop of Bubanza and President of the Conference of Catholic Bishops of Burundi

Luc Picard
Catholic Relief Services, Burundi

Scott Appleby
Catholic Peacebuilding Network