Catholic Peacebuilding Network

Enhancing the study and practice of Catholic peacebuilding

Lessons Learned in Peacebuilding in Colombia

Reflections from the Perspective of the Social Ministry / Caritas
Prepared in June 2007 for the Fourth Annual International CPN Conference

Mons. Hector Fabio Henao Gaviria
Director SNPS / Caritas of Colombia

Reflecting on the lessons we have learned in the Catholic Church, the Episcopal Conference and within our Social Ministry over the years is not an easy task. We have to humbly say that we are still learning and that the creativity and imagination within our community are key elements on this long road. There is much we can learn from other countries who have experiences with peace and post-conflict processes. That is the importance of this International Conference and the presence of delegates from Asia, Africa and other countries in the Americas. We thank them for their participation.
Today we can take a look at concentric focal points that help us understand the process, the lessons and the progress achieved. We begin with ourselves in the reflection and action of the Episcopate, a perspective that is eminently evangelical and profoundly pastoral. The recognition of this perspective helps us understand the range and the dimensions of proposed contributions.
I invite you to begin with a look at a point I consider central to the reflection of the Episcopate in its moral and ethical position derived from a profound faith in Jesus Christ. “Our faith in Lord Jesus Christ motivates us to reach all Colombians with a message of hope: The Merciful Father does not want his children to live as slaves with their dignity trod upon, their lives threatened and their rights ignored. Because we believe in God and, at the same time, know all the possibilities for growth and greatness within our brothers and sisters, we reject the wounding of justice, truth and life.” From this central point, we can visualize and understand other levels and focal points of commitment of our church to justice, truth, reparation and reconciliation.

Colombia: School for peace
“The desire for peace is deeply rooted and alive in the Colombian people and is expressed in many ways.” With these words, the Episcopate defined in 1984 what peace means to the Colombian people: it is a deeply rooted and active desire. Peace is certainly a difficult challenge, but in the daily life of community it is pursued vehemently. Peace has been a central aspiration throughout recent decades. There have been numerous peace processes, some successful and others failures. Disarmament processes have allowed many combatants to reintegrate into society, but a significant sector has rearmed. In government circles, in community proposals and in policies developed over the last few years, we find a hidden treasure of proposals and experiences around peace. In the geography of peace, there are peaks of community experiences in which many counties are centers of initiatives that spring from the creativity within the people. It is certain that this is a creative dynamic born of an active desire, not just a concept or some distant idea about human harmony.
Colombia is a large school, constantly learning from experiences and peace proposals that are born from the base. We have seen the flowering of movements and organizations with a clear local and regional commitment, making our country a true school of peace. Colombia is one of the few countries in the world with a national peace prize that awards community efforts through an annual recognition of persons and institutions that have contributed significantly to local and regional harmony. The lesson imparted by all these processes is that the country needs to recognize the richness of these proposals, overcome the erratic and scattered policies found on many levels and convert these proposals into real roads to peace.
The Episcopate has stated that this desire is deeply rooted in the aspirations of Colombians, and that much effort has been dedicated and enormous sacrifices made in the search for peace. There is a long list of community leaders, pastoral workers, human rights defenders, and men and women who have given their lives as they traveled together this path to peace. They have inspired, on all levels, positions taken by the Episcopate, pastoral plans, actions and commitments of the Church and have served as a rich source of inspiration. We must underscore that the Pontifico and Latin American Magisterio, as well as the lessons of other Churches on the continent, have served as points of reference and illumination that have provided a great richness.
Those who know about local and regional peace experiences, which are the fruit of great imagination, may ask: Why have we had a conflict that has lasted for decades? How do you explain the fact that no road has been found toward a definite solution? How do we maintain a perspective that sustains the hopeful actions that support us on the road to peace and block the defeatism of easy solutions?

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