MODULE 1: What Is Peacebuilding and What Is Catholic About It?


Age-old debates over just war and pacifism are well known.  What is less well known and understood is the Church’s role in conflict prevention, conflict mitigation and post-violence reconciliation.  From Colombia to South Sudan, the Catholic community, including Catholic Relief Services (CRS), is working with other religious actors and the wider civil society to promote peace amidst some of the world’s most intractable conflicts.   This session provides an overview of the Church’s role, considering it in the context of Catholic social teaching and a strategic approach to peacebuilding, with special attention to the peacebuilding work of CRS.   

Learning Objectives

  • Learn about the elements of a strategic approach to Catholic peacebuilding.
  • Understand how the Catholic community is particularly well placed to be strategic in its approach to peacebuilding.
  • Learn how CRS applies its approach to peacebuilding globally.

Discussion Guide Questions                                                                             

  • According to John Paul Lederach, in war-torn areas like South Sudan, Uganda, Congo, the southern Philippines, and Colombia, the Catholic Church’s “ubiquitous presence” gives the Church a “unique if not unprecedented presence in the landscape of ... conflict.” How does that “presence” translate into a peacebuilding Church?
  • In light of the Appleby chapter in Peacebuilding and the Lederach/ Appleby chapter in Strategies of Peace, and considering what you know about the Catholic community, what are the elements of a strategic approach to Catholic peacebuilding?
  • In what ways is the Catholic community particularly well placed to be strategic in its approach to peacebuilding? In what ways is the Catholic community not well placed to be strategic?
  • Does the Catholic Church need to abandon the just war tradition and embrace principled nonviolence if it wants to become more of a peacebuilding Church? 

Peacebuiding Terms Sheet

Primary Resources

  • John Paul Lederach and R. Scott Appleby, "Strategic Peacebuilding: An Overview," in Strategies of Peace, Daniel Philpott and Gerard Powers, eds. (Oxford, 2010)
    This first chapter provides an overview of what the authors call, “strategic peacebuilding goes beyond the conventional focus on state actors and military, political and economic factors. It also considers a wider set if actors such as religious and civil society groups, and factors, such as culture at all levels and the relationship among them. Access your institution's library for e-book access.
  • Gerard F. Powers, "Catholic Peacebuilding," in ​​​​​A Vision of Justice: Engaging Catholic Social Teaching on the College Campus, Susan Crawford Sullivan and Ron Pagnucco, eds. (Liturgical Press, 2014)
    This chapter is written as an introduction to Catholic peacebuilding for college students. Using contemporary examples from Iraq, South Sudan, Northern Uganda, Colombia, and the Church’s peacebuilding assets: (1) ritual spirituality, theology, and ethics; (2) people power; and (3) institutional presence amidst all aspects of a conflict. It concludes with a reflection on the special responsibility of American Catholics to embrace a vocation of peacebuilding. Access your institution's library for this resource.
  • R. Scott Appleby, "Peacebuilding and Catholicism: Affinities, Convergences, Possibilities," in Peacebuilding: Catholic Theology Ethics and Praxis, Robert J. Schreiter, R. Scott Appleby, and Gerard F. Powers, eds. (Orbis, 2010)
    ​​​​​​This chapter provides a brief introduction to the wide range of actors and activist involved in Catholic peacebuilding. It suggests first that a peacebuilding lens makes a difference in how we understand and address problems; and second, that Catholicism brings a distinct set of teachings, practices, sensibilities, and institutional resources to its peacebuilding work with other religious and secular actors.
    Peacebuilding and Catholicism
  • William R. Headley, CSSp, and Reina C. Neufeldt, "Catholic Relief Services: Catholic Peacebuilding in Practice," in Peacebuilding: Catholic Theology Ethics and Praxis, Robert J. Schreiter, R. Scott Appleby, and Gerard F. Powers, eds. (Orbis, 2010)
    This chapter describes how CRS “is among a unique subset of agencies that has deliberately approached peacebuilding from a Catholic perspective, employing concepts from Catholic social teaching such as integral human development, human rights, and reconciliation.
    Catholic Peacebuilding In Practice
  • CRS Peacebuilding Overview
    In this video, Tom Bamat, Former Technical Advisor at CRS, spends 20 minutes discussing the agency’s work at the grassroots level in conflict-affected areas to prevent violence, mitigate its effects, and reintegrate impacted populations. He describes the scope of CRS’s stand alone and integrative work - focused on youth, gender, civic engagement, interfaith and extractives, as well as human rights and trafficking. He cites programs in Arroya, Peru and Darfur, Sudan.
  • Mark M. Rogers, Tom Bamat, and Julie Ideh, “Synthesis: Gleanings on Process-Structures—Currents, Gravity, Streams and Leverage,” in Pursuing Just Peace: An Overview and Case Studies for Faith-Based Peacebuilders, Mark M. Rogers, Tom Bamat, and Julie Ideh, eds. (Catholic Relief Services, 2008)
    In “Synthesis: Gleanings on Process-Structures—Currents, Gravity, Streams and Leverage,” editors Mark M. Rogers, Tom Bamat, and Julie Ideh reflect on the notion of ‘process structures’ (first articulated by John Paul Lederach). They articulate 6 key components that impact the creation and support of effective process-structures. They articulate 6 key components that impact the creation and support of effective process-structures.

Secondary Resources

  • R. Scott Appleby, The Ambivalence of the Sacred: Religion, Violence and Reconciliation (Rowman & Littlefield, 2000
    In his chapter titled "Religion and Conflict Transformation" (pages 207 - 244), Appleby offers a typology of religious conflict transformation, including the roles of religious actors in different phases of conflict – conflict management, conflict resolution, and post conflict peacebuilding – and three modes of religious engagement – crisis mobilization, saturation, and interventionist. Access your institution's library for this resource.
  • Lisa Sowle Cahill, Global Justice, Christology and Christian Ethics (Cambridge Univ Press, 2013
    In her concluding chapter (pages 290-303), Cahill explains how the theological virtue of hope is engendered from within action to address the human suffering that wars produce.   She interweaves an overview of a theology of hope with concrete examples of peacebuilding as a strategy to reduce conflict and its causes and as a Christian expression of the politics of salvation. Access your institution's library for this resource.
  • David Steele, “An Introductory Overview to Faith-Based Peacebuilding,” in Pursuing Just Peace: An Overview and Case Studies for Faith-Based Peacebuilders (Catholic Relief Services, 2008)
    This chapter first defines faith-based peacebuilding and then explores five dimensions that must be addressed in facilitating an effective reconciliation process (grief and trauma healing, hospitality, confession/apology, justice and forgiveness). He continues by describing the roles that faith-based actors can play.  He concludes with some best practices and lessons learned.
  • Gerald Schlabach, “Signs of That Peace,” in America, 22-29 Dec 2014
    "Peacemaking is everyone’s business” is Schlabach’s understanding of Pope Francis’s message on peacebuilding or, more particularly, people-building.  After discussing various aspects of the Pope’s vision, the author provides suggestions - around Liturgy and Preaching, Catechesis and Catholic Higher Education, and Community Formation and Social Action – that will help to build a people of peace.
  • Drew Christiansen, S.J., “Catholic Peacemaking, 1991-2005: The Legacy of Pope John Paul II,” in The Review of Faith and International Affairs 4:2 (Fall 2006): 21-28
    Christiansen provides a summary of the direction of Catholic peacemaking during 1991 – 2005, in particular the contribution of Pope John Paul II. He proposes and discusses three distinct aspects: “(1) the articulation of a positive Catholic conception of peace and the development of new teaching on conflict with an accent on nonviolence; (2) an increased emphasis on international law and international institutions; and (3) the use of interreligious dialogue to counter violence and religious conflict.”
  • Mark Rogers, Aaron Chassy, and Tom Bamat, Integrating Peacebuilding into Humanitarian and Development Programming: Practical Guidance on Designing Effective, Holistic Peacebuilding Projects (Catholic Relief Services, 2010)
    Efforts by international organizations to integrate or mainstream peacebuilding across the diverse spectrum of humanitarian and development work has tended to be opportunistic and ad hoc. This CRS paper on integrating peacebuilding into humanitarian and development programming seeks to clarify key terms, explore organizational frameworks and initiatives, provide some practical guidance, and list references or links to both thematic and procedural sources.
  • CRS Guide about Peacebuilding, Governance, Gender, Protection and Youth Evaluations (Catholic Relief Services, May 2017)
    In the third edition of this guide, a youth assessment has been added to the tools. This complements the integration of peacebuilding, governance and gender considerations into development and humanitarian programming - all core competencies for CRS.
  • USCCB Department of Justice, Peace and Human Development, Office of International Justice and Peace, Catholic Views on Drone Warfare
    Drones are proliferating and changing the nature of warfare as they are used in targeted killings. Who are the targets? How are they selected? What about due process? Would we stand for drones being used against us?
  • R. Scott Appleby, "Catholic Peacebuilding," America Magazine, 8 September 2003
    Scott Appleby states “Peacemakers make peace possible. Peacebuilders make it real.” This compact article provides a broad context for the state of peacebuilding at the beginning of the 21st century.