Catholic Peacebuilding Network

Enhancing the study and practice of Catholic peacebuilding


Leaders address the future of Catholic peacebuilding in Rome

July 12, 2011 • Gerard Powers


Program and Biographies
Streaming Video Session 1. Session 2.
The heads of several of the international Catholic organizations most deeply involved in peacebuilding joined scholars in Rome on June 30 for a conference on the Future of Peacebuilding: Contributions from Catholic Theology, Ethics, Praxis.

“If Catholic Social Teaching is the Church’s Best Kept Secret, Catholic peacebuilding may be Catholic Social Teaching’s Best Kept Secret,” according to Gerard Powers, Director of Catholic Peacebuilding Studies at the University of Notre Dame’s Kroc Institute for International Peace Studies and coordinator of the Catholic Peacebuilding Network. “From South Sudan and Central America to Congo and Colombia, the Catholic Church is a powerful force for peace, freedom, justice and reconciliation. But that impressive and courageous peacebuilding work of the Catholic community is often unknown, unheralded and under-analyzed.” Full text

Held at the Christian Brothers’ Casa La Salle in Rome, the meeting was organized by the Catholic Peacebuilding Network (CPN), based at Notre Dame’s Kroc Institute for International Peace Studies, and co-sponsored by 9 other academic institutes, development agencies, and peace organizations affiliated with the CPN.
With an audience of diplomats, aid workers, peacebuilding practitioners and academics, the conference focused on three questions: What constitutes effective and authentically Catholic peacebuilding? How can Catholic peacebuilding practices inform and be informed by Catholic theology? And what are future challenges for Catholic peacebuilding?

In the keynote address, Cardinal Peter Turkson, president of the Pontifical Council for Justice and Peace, gave a personal reflection on insights he has gained from his peacebuilding work in his native Ghana and, more recently, in Cote d’Ivoire. Without underestimating the importance of peacebuilding skills and strategies, he emphasized the personal dimension of peacebuilding. “Blood is thicker than baptismal water” is a refrain he’s heard in ethnic and tribal conflicts that have flared in Ghana, Congo, Sudan, the Balkans and elsewhere. “Violence manifests itself through people,” said Cardinal Turkson. “So peacebuilding starts with changing the heart. We have the tools and systems to develop peace on the ground. As Christians we have faith and grace to change hearts.”

In his first public address since being elected to head Caritas Internationalis, Michel Roy said that Caritas, which is in over 200 countries, “fulfills its mission when it integrates its relief, development, and peacebuilding work.” As an example, he highlighted Caritas’ support for the Acholi Religious Leaders Peace Initiative in Northern Uganda. He noted that this initiative was distinctive for undertaking peacebuilding from the village level to the United Nations. Full text

Noting the link between peacebuilding and policy, he urged the international community to do more to control the proliferating trade in the small arms so readily available to violent groups like the Lord’s Resistance Army and to take stronger measures to stop the use of sexual violence as a weapon of war in the Democratic Republic of the Congo and elsewhere.

Marie Dennis, co-president of Pax Christi International, provided an overview of Pax Christi’s long-standing support for the multi-faceted peacebuilding work of the Catholic Church in Sudan. With its “extraordinary” moral credibility that resulted from “close accompaniment of the people throughout the long years of war between the north and the south,” the Church (working with other churches) “set the framework for peacebuilding in their country.” As violence flares with the approach of the formal independence of South Sudan on July 9th, the “Catholic community is present and fully engaged, using international networks to expose brutality, accompanying communities caught in the violence, making strong public statements in an effort to protect those being harmed, promoting reconciliation, [and] encouraging the development of just political processes and structures.” Full text

A common theme of the speakers was that peacebuilding is an integral part of the Church’s mission and the vocation of faithful Catholics. Fr. Robert Schreiter, C.PP.S., a professor at the Catholic Theological Union, stressed that peace “is more than something the Church can do” because of its global reach and ubiquitous presence in many areas of conflict. “It is something the Church must do if it is to be faithful to its Lord, … an utter requirement for our participation in God’s reconciling action in the world.” Full text

Reflecting on lessons learned from Sant’Egidio’s peacebuilding work over the last two decades, Claudio Betti, Director of Special Operations for the Community in Rome, noted that the “Church does not see other actors as a threat [but] considers the creation of a sense of communion, a synergy, as the only way to achieve lasting peace.” That is why Catholic peacebuilders must be prepared to dialogue with everyone, even the worst killers. “Peace is ours,” he emphasized. “It is too great a gift to be left only in the hands of politicians and diplomats…. [yet] the Church is not and never will be only part of ‘civil society’.”

He also emphasized that while the Church is, indeed, universal in its outlook and presence, it has a distinctively Roman dimension which is often forgotten or considered a liability. But the Roman perspective includes essential ingredients for peacebuilding: the sense of responsibility to preside in charity, a belief that “everything is possible,” and being rooted in a particular tradition.

Addressing the contribution of Catholic social teaching to peacebuilding by political institutions, Maryann Cusimano Love, associate professor of political science at the Catholic University of America, noted the “good news” that the idea of peacebuilding is now taken more seriously and has given rise to new institutions, such as the UN Peacebuilding Commission and new offices at the U.S. State and Defense Departments. The “bad news” is that these new initiatives suffer from “severe capacity gaps,” due to lack of adequate funding and staffing. She contrasted the $343 million given to the UN Peacebuilding Commission over 5 years with the $5 billion annual budgets of Caritas agencies around the world. Moreover, the government programs have an understanding of peacebuilding that is far less robust and lacks the “moral imagination” of Catholic peacebuilding. Full text

Fr. William Headley, CSSp, Dean of the Joan B. Kroc School of Peace Studies at the University of San Diego, drew lessons from the Church’s peacebuilding in Burundi, including the engagement of Catholic Relief Services and the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops with the Church in Burundi. One lesson is that “ethical reflection, theology and spirituality are not project activities, skills or management tools” of the peacebuilding NGOs. He added that, while Catholics “make our unique contribution to this emerging field and draw our inspiration from our grounding in Catholic social thought,” we must humbly acknowledge that many of the “practical resources we use for conflict analysis, mediation, trauma healing, [and] reconciliation were developed outside of the Catholic context.” Full text

Schreiter cited several challenges for future Catholic peacebuilding: “shaping policies and practices for ius post bellum”; giving greater attention to social forgiveness; and translating a theology and ethics of peacebuilding into terms intelligible to peacebuilders of other faiths and the secular world, and making it accessible to grassroots communities.

The text of the talks and video of the conference are available at For a fuller treatment of the topic, see Peacebuilding: Catholic Theology, Ethics, and Praxis. (Orbis 2010), the product of an intensive 4-year research project sponsored by the CPN, Notre Dame’s Kroc Institute and Catholic Theological Union’s Bernardin Center.

The conference was sponsored by the Catholic Peacebuilding Network • the Bernardin Center for Theology and Ministry, Catholic Theological Union • Caritas Internationalis • Catholic Relief Services • the Center for Human Rights and International Justice, Boston College • the Institute for Policy Research, The Catholic University of America • the Institute for Theology and Peace, Germany • the Joan B. Kroc School of Peace Studies, University of San Diego • the Kroc Institute for International Peace Studies, University of Notre Dame • the Order of Friars Minor • and Pax Christi International.
For more information: Gerard Powers;; 574-631-3765.

Photo: Michel Roy with Cardinal Peter Turkson
Credit: Patrick Nicholson/Caritas