Focus, Rationale and Purpose
Two assumptions animated this conference:
First, peacebuilding matters. Seeing issues through a peacebuilding lens (as opposed, for example, to a purely human rights or development lens) makes a difference in what is done as well as outcomes.
Second, Catholic peacebuilding matters. While Catholic peacebuilding shares much in common with Mennonite, Muslim or secular peacebuilding, the Catholic community brings something distinctive to the peacebuilding enterprise and its capacity to do so could and should be strengthened by grounding it more deeply in theology and ethics.
In recent years, there has been a growing interest in faith-based peacebuilding. On the praxis side, there has been a proliferation of programs that consciously seek to nurture the kinds of peacebuilding activities in which the church has long been involved. For example, Catholic Relief Services has developed a major peacebuilding program; Caritas Internationalis is producing a second edition of its widely-used training manual on peacebuilding; the Sant’ Egidio Community and the World Conference on Religions for Peace have held major international events on inter-religious peacebuilding, in addition to pursuing important and innovative peacebuilding initiatives around the world; there is a growing demand for training in peacebuilding for Catholic leaders at all levels; and a number of major Church and academic entities in the United States have formed the Catholic Peacebuilding Network, an effort to promote greater understanding of the dynamics of peacebuilding among scholars and practitioners.
There is a growing literature on religion and peacebuilding, and some researchers have produced helpful case studies of the Catholic Church’s peacebuilding role in particular conflicts. Nevertheless, there is considerable room for further reflection on the theological and ethical insights that inform the church’s concrete experience of peacebuilding around the world. A series of international conferences sponsored by the Catholic Peacebuilding Network has contributed to this inductive approach to thinking about peacebuilding, namely conferences in May 2004 at Notre Dame, July 2005 in Mindanao, July 2006 in Burundi, and June 2007 in Colombia.
The literature on the spirituality, theology and ethics of peace and reconciliation is growing as well, but it is not nearly as well developed as the literature on the ethics of war. Moreover, this theological and ethical literature could benefit from a deeper dialogue with those involved in the praxis of peacebuilding.
This conference covered theology and ethics, as they are informed by and inform praxis. Using this inductive method, it addressed these general questions:
- What peacebuilding practices (e.g., new forms of governance, mediation, post conflict reconciliation, inter-religious collaboration) could inform and benefit from deeper theological and ethical reflection?
- What characteristics of Catholic theology and ethics inform the praxis of peacebuilding, and to what extent are they distinctively Catholic?
- How would the life and mission of the Catholic community be different (e.g., approaches to development, human rights, public policy, pastoral practices) if it were defined more explicitly in terms of a vocation of peacebuilding?
- What is the significance of a theology and ethics of peacebuilding for the wider search for peace? What difference does/ could it make?
- What lessons can be learned about “best practices” from the Church’s peacebuilding experience in a diverse range of conflict situations?
Related to these questions are the four dimensions of the conference’s purpose:
- First, it was designed to serve as a capstone to a series of international conferences sponsored by the Catholic Peacebuilding Network, which explored lessons learned from the Church’s peacebuilding experience at the University of Notre Dame (2004), Mindanao (the Philippines) (2005), Burundi (2006) and Colombia (2007).
- Second, the conference sought to help define an agenda for enhancing the future study and practice of this important part of the Church’s mission.
- Third, it provided an opportunity for those involved in a major research project on Catholic peacebuilding to present the final draft of their papers prior to the publication of a major book on the theology, ethics, and praxis of Catholic peacebuilding in 2009.
- Finally, the broad institutional co-sponsorship and diverse range of participants ensured that this major event that brought national and international attention to the often unheralded peacebuilding work of the Church.