In an unprecedented joint effort, delegates from the six national and two regional bishops’ conferences in the Great Lakes Region of Africa have agreed on guidelines for the elaboration of a common strategic plan for promoting peace and reconciliation. The guidelines were approved at a conference in Bujumbura, Burundi, October 19-21, which included some 125 representatives from Burundi, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Rwanda, Uganda, Kenya and Tanzania, as well as ACEAC and AMECEA.
In a final declaration issued on October 27, the conference identified four major challenges facing the region: “bad governance; ethnic and tribal conflicts; widespread and profound trauma; and plundering or uncontrolled exploitation of natural resources together with the subsequent destruction of the environment.” These challenges coincide with three cross-cutting challenges facing the Church: “underutilization and insufficient awareness of the Church’s unique potential to promote peace and reconciliation; the lack of pertinent information on the underlying causes of our problems; and insufficient coordination of the Church’s initiatives for peace and reconciliation.”
In order to address these challenges, the conference delegates agreed on a formal proposal that will be submitted for review and approval by the six national and two regional episcopal conferences within the next six months. The proposal calls on the bishops’ conferences (1) to create and provide the necessary resources for a mechanism for regional coordination for peace and reconciliation; (2) to promote closer collaboration among universities, research centers, justice and peace commissions, Caritas agencies, and social communications services; and (3) to engage in constructive collaboration at the ecumenical and interreligious levels.
The “Conference of the Catholic Episcopate of the Great Lakes Region for Peace and Reconciliation” was a response to the call of the Second Synod of Bishops for Africa for more “effective and affective collegiality” on behalf of reconciliation, justice and peace (prop. 3). It was also an outgrowth of the work of the Joint Commission for Refugees of the Burundi and Tanzanian episcopal conferences; the 2006 Catholic Peacebuilding Network conference, held in Burundi; and a peacebuilding initiative of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, Catholic Relief Services, and the Conference of Catholic Bishops of Burundi.
A working group convened by the Catholic Peacebuilding Network and regional peacebuilding specialists from Catholic Relief Services worked closely with the Conference Steering Committee over the past three years. Conference partners included the Catholic Peacebuilding Network, the U.S. Catholic Bishops’ Africa Solidarity Fund, Catholic Relief Services, the University of Notre Dame’s Kroc Institute for International Peace Studies, the German Civil Peace Service (AGEH), Cordaid, Missio-Aachen, and Misereor.