Lisa Cahill came to the University yesterday afternoon into the evening to give a lecture entitled, “Peacebuilding: A Practical Strategy of Hope.” She spoke at a blistering pace, and I scribbled approximately ten pages of notes, and could have written more. Her presentation moved from the two strands of theoretical basis to the Christian peace traditions, pacifism and just war theory, to her own practical experiences in Colombia, working through the Catholic Peacebuilding Network at the University of Notre Dame, and other accounts of practical engagements in peacebuilding. In 2007, Cahill attended a conference there, went to a bario near the capital city of Bogotá, meeting a small group of women, who called themselves in Spanish what translates to “Little Aunts of Peace” in English and some of the national Catholic Bishops there. She recounted stories of people whose lives exemplified the mission of peacebuilding: Fr. Darío Echeverri, head of the Bishops’ Conference Commission of National Reconciliation in Colombia and a mediator between different armed groups, the government, and the Catholic Church, and Nancy Sanchez, a journalist for twenty years in Colombia reporting on the violence in Colombia and identifying dead bodies in morgues for families to mourn properly. Both of these people, Cahill said, were willing to take put their lives at risk in order to work for peace. Such an approach to peacebuilding, of being willing to risk one’s life, seemed like it was essential to the process of peacebuilding in such a context where violence is consistent and peace negotiations progress and regress as the tide comes and goes.
Her lecture moved into more explicit theological reflection when she urged a sense of Augustinian caution about trying too hard to bring the City of God to the City of Man, which she conveyed as retaining tension in our present world. She also posed a series of more enigmatic questions: Where do people get this courage to keep going in the face of defeat? What inspires hope in the context of unending violence? Drawing on a line from Pope Benedict XVI’s second encyclical letter, Spes Salvi, in which he writes “All serious and upright human conduct is hope in action” (35). While such profound words provide substance for reflection, she pined to know the locus of hope itself, since although action can yeild hope, it does not address the locus of hope when the action is a failure. She shared her personal reflections about some Jesuit Refugee Service workers who witnessed first hand an unjust judicial system were affirmed only in the response of the victims of corruption whom they had accompanied through the process of filing a lawsuit. While the accompaniment provided by the JRS workers had revealed an even more deeply ingrained institutional injustice, the victims shared with them the fruit of their work: the honest relationship that had developed, an affirmation of mutual respect of the victims as persons, and a just search for accountability.
She then turned to John Sobrino for more inspiration to answer the question, “What inspires hope?” In his Christ Liberator, he writes “Hope and praxis (action) are not opposed but can require each other… The praxis guiding hope is not only justice, it is love. Love produces hope” To her, Sobrino’s answer provides a more convincing answer to the question about the locus of the inspiration for hope since love, not in the usual conception of affinity or emotional connextion to another person, but as a real feeling or solidarity which is a personal and social virtue. Such love makes a person willing to sacrifice her or himself and takes risks. And it is love in the social-practical form of solidarity and willingness to risk itself that explains well what hope is. Further developing this line of thought of love as solidarity and political willingness to iniate the peacemaking process, she drew on Glen Stassin’s Just Peacemaking and Eli McCarthy’s Becoming Nonviolent Peacemakers to speculate about the possibility of institutionalizing hope in society. She concluded with a concise definition and a litany of Peacebuilding: Peacebuilding is a process marred by incompleteness and constituted by hope inspired by love whose form is solidarity. Peacebuiliding is a practical strategy of hope, which is able to get past fear and prejudice. Peacebuilding depends on moral and religious virtue.
Dr. Cahill’s lecture exemplified the concrete and practical work that needs to accompany theology if it is to stay relevant in today’s world. Theologies of peace, like all theology, risks ethereality without embodiment in the lives of real people and the conflicts of human communities.
Where to go from here: how does a middle class American community reflect dynamics of violence and peacebuilding?
how are middle class American communities able to contribute to peacebuilding strategies?
Peter O’Connell, theology graduate student