As Caritas launches a major new peacebuilding website Joseph Cornelius Donnelly, Caritas Internationalis’ Delegate to the UN in New York, talks about peacebuilding at a personal level
Finding a peace that lasts, a just peace that makes a genuine difference in the lives of people, this is the enormous challenge facing all of us.
There are peacemakers by nature, people whose basic instincts are so rooted in sharing the gifts of the earth with their neighbors that peace is their only way.
However, most others come to peacebuilding through our communities, our professional work, our missions – as well as through our faith, families, friends, and enemies.
We find ourselves face to face with people and problems. The lack of peace for a person, community or country is a time of disease. It must be addressed. It never just goes away. It calls us to muster a will for right relations – for respect for other human beings.
In some situations this is called “crossing borders” – physical, mental, emotional and historical barriers which have permitted negative instincts to fester, to grow deeper and wound further. For everyone who takes the risk, there seem to be a dozen others armed with reasons not to cross the divide. Without the personal will to make the necessary moves, the freeze between peoples and crises intensifies.
Much hope and possibilities were born of the signing of the Oslo Accords by Yitzak Rabin and Yaser Arafat in 1993. I joined a gym in Jerusalem on the other side of the divide to where I normally spent much of my time. A simple gesture to be in a place where I would have more direct contact with people and communities I did not know. This gesture opened deeper levels of dialogue which supported my life as much as my work. It gave me confidence when I needed courage to take the next uncertain mile toward other places and persons. It gave me something both practical and serious to share with others.
It was good, very good – precisely because it wasn’t easy. Intelligent vulnerability can seed us all with great capacities.
Years later, in a completely different setting, I was with a former head of state, now a special envoy in a difficult peace process. In simple, humble words, he gave witness to the will for peace. He said: “Where do I begin? I begin where I am in my life. I am a believer, what does my God tell me? I am a Catholic, what does my Church teach me?” He went on: “I am just one man. I am not everyone or everything. I must recognize there are many others before me, many others above me. I must walk humbly into this crisis seeking solutions and not make myself part of the problem.”
His testimony stunned many diplomats and experts. His vigorous will within himself as a peacemaker initially brought a near silence to the rarified gathering. He understood so well how hard it is as individuals and as leaders to believe in the uncertain ways of peace. His words offered a comprehensive course on peacebuilding from the deepest places with perhaps the greatest resources.
A year later, he said: “I have looked the enemy in the face. I have met his eyes with mine. I have seen him as the human being he is – also, believe it or not, made in the image and likeness of God. I cannot kill him. I cannot let you just kill him. WE must find another way to solve our problem.”