By Dr. Carolyn Y. Woo
“Father, forgive them for they know not what they are doing.” (Luke 23:34)
On Good Friday we recall the violation, mutilation and crucifixion inflicted on Christ. Sadly, such acts continue today. This April marks the 20th anniversary of the Rwanda genocide in which over 800,000 Tutsis and Hutu sympathizers were killed. My work at Catholic Relief Services focuses me on zones of conflict. I often receive reports from colleagues about the destruction of homes, livelihoods, families, lives and churches in various parts of the world, such as South Sudan and Syria.
Easter proclaims new life and new beginnings no matter the horror, injustice and depravity that may intimidate us into denial and disengagement. Upon Jesus’ resurrection, He could no longer be found in the tomb: the depository of death and the past. He made his way among the living where much work awaited Him. There would be healing, forgiving, uniting, teaching the way of God versus the way of man. Most important was to reclaim the goodness and courage from those who had failed Him. For to them, He entrusted the work of love that would let His divine light overcome the darkness of human hearts and to bring peace where there had been discord and brokenness.
CRS came into a profound recognition of the need for peacebuilding in the 1990s when internal conflicts erupted in Rwanda, Sudan, Bosnia and other countries where we served. We could not fulfill our mission to serve the poorest and most vulnerable if we ignored the dynamics and causes of exclusion, division and conflict. My predecessor, Ken Hackett, led the agency in prayerful and deep reflection that resulted in two defining commitments. First, CRS would adopt a justice lens to understand the forces which lock people into unjust structures and impede their flourishing. We would follow the principles of Catholic Social Teachings and Integral Human Development to attend to the whole person and every person in need. Second, we would develop our capacity, in collaboration with local partners, for peacebuilding that entails sustained engagement with local communities and utilizes the knowledge of each locality’s customs that comes from that engagement to foster dialogue, imagine a different future, bring about a change in heart for healing and forgiveness and eventually for reconciliation. At the same time, rigorous analysis, programmatic work and advocacy would be needed to get at the underlying causes of poverty, resentment and oppression.
Peacebuilding is hard work. It does not follow a linear trajectory of progress. Gains achieved are fragile and can be lost to disruptions such as natural disasters, internal power struggles, corruption or external provocations. Success takes decades and progress is confounded by new challenges. But we undertake this ministry not by our own power and it is not just our collective peace that we offer. We are bearer of Christ’s peace, working on His timetable, bolstered by His promise, “Peace I leave with you, my peace I give to you; not as the world gives do I give to you. Do not let your heart be troubled, nor let it be fearful.” (John 14:27)
For the genocides in Cambodia, Bosnia and Rwanda, I stayed on the sidelines pre-occupied with work and family. Could I really not find a minute to raise my voice to my government? To take greater interest? Christ promises peace, but He also calls us to do our part, “Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called children of God.” (Matthew 5:9).
Take the first step to learn about making peace: visit CRS.org as we have dedicated the month of April to peacebuilding.
Dr. Woo is the president & CEO of Catholic Relief Services, the official overseas humanitarian agency of the Catholic community in the United States. This article is part of her ongoing monthly column, Our Global Family, written for Catholic News Service.