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'Peacebuilding' 101: No Fear

By John Lindner

"People think of peace as cease-fire," says Father Joseph Mawa, pastor of St. Patrick's Church in Nimule, southern Sudan. "But peace is more than that. Peace is absence of fear, absence of anxiety."

Father Mawa has seen war, terror, hunger and many other fears prey on his flock. He knows about fear and anxiety. And he knows peace when he sees it. Father Mawa is a peacebuilder.

Father Joseph Mawa

Father Joseph Mawa of St. Patrick's Church in Nimule has seen peace meetings at the church result in lasting agreements between tribal and ethnic groups. Photo by Karen Kasmauski for CRS

The Church has always done peacebuilding. Catholic Relief Services has always done peacebuilding. But we never used that term, never thought of our work in that way, until Rwanda. After the 1994 Rwanda massacre, 800,000 murdered in 100 days, CRS took a long hard look at itself.

We determined we needed to be about more than providing material goods. And we needed to see those material goods in a new light. Some of us like to say CRS now looks at all its work through a "justice lens."

We also look at our work through a "peace lens."

Peacebuilding is the deliberate act of seeking out and eliminating causes of fear and anxiety that draw people into conflict.

Example: We know it's not enough to drill a well for a community. You need to make sure people have a say in the process, that local protocols are respected, that everyone understands the hows and whys of sharing a well. Placement can be critical. You want to make sure everyone has equal access, understands hygiene practices, and so on.

A well furnished by CRS in Amika.

A well built by CRS in Amika advances peacebuilding by supplying a precious resource that can be enjoyed by the entire community. Photo by Karen Kasmauski/CRS

Once you've done that, it's no trick to list all the fears and anxieties you've eliminated in that village. You've removed the danger associated with walking miles to the nearest river; kids have time for school work; moms have time for kids; dads don't have to argue over water rights….

Example: In southern Sudan, as in the United States, people identify very clearly along tribal lines. Sudanese tribes are based on family lines. In the United States we divide along political, sports and hobby lines, among many others.

In the United States, if you have a tribe of dirt bike enthusiasts enjoying the rugged terrain in the same place the bird watcher tribe goes to scope finches, you can see the conflict coming, right?

In southern Sudan, if you're from the Acholi tribe maybe you fled with your family to Uganda to escape civil war that brought fighting to your village. Years later, you return to your village, to land possessed by your Acholi ancestors for centuries. But now there's another tribe occupying part of the land. They, too, were chased off their land by the war. You can see where the conflicts begin.

Peacebuilding brings the tribes together to work out their problems and eliminate their fears and anxieties about land use—will we have enough? Peacebuilders find a new place for the dirt bikers; they help elders and other leaders settle border and property disputes. A lot of times, they simply bring people together to talk. A lot of times, that's all that's required.

Father Joseph Otto greets a child after Mass.

Commitment to community fosters trust and peace in war-ravaged southern Sudan. Father Joseph Otto of St. Theresa Parish in Magwi greets a child after Mass. Photo by Karen Kasmauski for CRS

Sometimes you need a well. Sometimes a school. Sometimes you just need a shady spot to meet and work out a plan. One thing you always need: trust.

Father Mawa and the Catholic Church in southern Sudan have shared a lot of suffering with the Sudanese people. The people know that. As a result, they trust the Church and the Father Mawas of southern Sudan.

If you could see your Church in southern Sudan, you'd see what for many Sudanese is the last best hope for peace, nationally and locally, physically and emotionally. The bishops, priests, religious and lay leaders, themselves Sudanese, who partner with CRS in southern Sudan are in for the long haul. Together we have the credibility and capability to bring calm, eliminate fears and build peace.

That's what peacebuilding is. You probably do it yourself in your family, your circle of friends, your community. We hope you'll join us and start building peace with our friends in southern Sudan.

John Lindner is managing editor of the website and blog. He traveled to Sudan for CRS to report on peacebuilding.

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