Civil…. Dialogue…. What a concept!!

Young Asian woman is emotional as she talks. A mid adult African American man and two Hispanic young women are sympathetic and concerned as she talks. The group is sitting in chairs in a circle.In our current climate, I find it very challenging to bring up any issue facing our nation in discussion with fellow parishioners, friends, and even family members. It seems that the most important issues, like immigration, race, health coverage, or income inequity and poverty, are understood from a one-sided view with little interest in understanding or valuing another’s perspective.  And, I am really as guilty as the next person! I find it easier to just talk about the weather and non-controversial issues than to seek to understand why my family and friends come to such different conclusions than I do.

It was this current climate that prompted me to participate in the Civil Dialogue on Immigration sponsored by the Office of Life Ministry in the Diocese of St. Petersburg. The experience proved to be well worth the commitment.

One weekend last summer, over 20 volunteers gathered at St. Patrick’s Church in Tampa to participate in a facilitator training workshop presented by two Catholic Relief representatives, Chris West and Joe Hastings. Chris and Joe created the civil dialogue process we would be using at the session, which they have used in other locations across the nation. We learned some basics of effectively facilitating group discussions, some facts about the immigration of individuals by country in the Tampa Bay area, and the Catholic immigration principles that our bishops use when responding to issues of immigration.  It was emphasized that our main goal was to provide a safe environment where all would feel respected and welcome to express their views.  Success would be measured by whether the participants left with a better understanding of others’ perspectives.

The next day we held the Civil Dialogue session at St. Patrick’s Church in Tampa. Over 80 individuals from parishes around the diocese were assigned to smaller groups with two facilitators.  Our moderator set the tone by reviewing the purpose of the dialogue as an opportunity to listen and learn from one another on the topic of immigration. He covered the ground rules which ensured that we were there to understand, not persuade: we would speak for ourselves (not for a group); we would not be critical of others’ views; we would listen with resilience – “staying with it” even if some things might be hard to hear; and remember that each person is sacred, a dwelling of the Holy Spirit, a child of God.   After getting a commitment to abide by these ground rules from each person at the table, the participants shared their own immigration stories.  How beautiful it was to hear others share how and why their own families traveled to our country. Many came because of hunger (think: the Irish potato famine), economic opportunity, escape from persecution or dictatorships, or for adventure and new opportunities.  This simple sharing brought all into the experience of immigration as opposed to only looking at people who are currently immigrants.

Our moderators shared the five principles from church teaching with regard to migration:

  1. Persons having the right to find opportunities in their homeland
  2. Persons having the right to migrate to support themselves and their families.
  3. Sovereign nations have the right to control their borders. (Wealthier nations have a stronger obligation to accommodate migration flows.)
  4. Refugees and asylum seekers should be afforded protection.
  5. The human dignity and the human rights of undocumented migrants should be respected.

There was a lot of reaction to these principles, some expressing a level of surprise that the Church acknowledges the rights of countries to protect borders. A few commented that they have never heard that principle from the Pope or the Bishops.

We followed by sharing how events related to immigration have affected us personally and what, if any, personal experiences we have had related to recent immigrants. Finally, we asked “what is at the heart of the matter for you?”

What followed was a rich dialogue that revealed personal experiences that clearly influenced each individual’s current views. Within the groups, people shared openly their struggle with wanting to do the right thing and care for the stranger, but also feeling a need to respect laws and uphold a measure of fairness. When we peeled back the surface level ‘public positions’, individuals began to share why this issue is important to them and what values they hold that are touched by this issue. Here we could find common ground among people who had different perspectives but had commonly-held beliefs.

Were we successful? When participants were asked to share one thing they learned or gained from today’s dialogue, they shared comments such as:

  • “I learned about the various challenges facing immigrants beyond the documentation process.”
  • “Everyone has different perspective but everyone wants to be respected.”
  • “There is a need for more dialogues like this in our church communities and in our communities.”
  • “I gained a greater understanding of the issue by hearing others’ views.”
  • “We can find common ground and values even when our conclusions are different.”
  • “Talking about such controversial issues is possible!”
  • “There were many opinions and many solutions but we all want to make the USA better.”
  • “Solving the problem of immigration should start with each individual.”
  • “This was a great experience. I learned a lot!”

For me personally, I learned that this a complex issue that surfaces conflicting feelings and values as a practicing Catholic. While polarization is becoming so deeply entrenched, opportunities to listen and learn the “why” behind others’ views can only have a positive impact as we move forward.

Where do we go from here? Our facilitators gathered again on Monday evening to debrief about the dialogue and talk about what’s next.  Can we implement more civil dialogues on a smaller scale in our local parishes? Can we use this process to discuss other issues?  These are all under discussion and hopefully will come to fruition.   In light of current events in our country, this civil dialogue process brings me hope that we can move forward together toward greater understanding of one another.

Loretta Rieman is a CCHD Intern in the Diocese of St. Petersburg.


Going Deeper!

Visit WeAreSaltAndLight.org for helpful resources on reaching out, such as Questions to Facilitate Encounter, A Guide to Dialogue on Difficult Issues, and Encouraging Civil Dialogue

Being a “peacemaker” in my own simple way

“Peace I leave you, my peace I give you…”

Lisa M. Hendey, Catholic blogger, author, and speaker

If you spend time online today, perhaps you will see fleeting references to a celebration that is not quite as ubiquitous as Mother’s Day, the Fourth of July, or even St. Patrick’s Day and our annual wearing of the green. Established in 1981 by a unanimous United Nations resolution, the International Day of Peace—a globally shared date to recommit ourselves to worldwide peace—is not exactly a household name or a Hallmark occasion. It may not even be a trending hashtag (#PeaceDay).

But it should be.

The General Assembly of the U.N. has proclaimed a unique and timely theme for this year’s observation: “Together for Peace: Respect, Safety and Dignity for All.” With an emphasis on showing support for migrants and refugees, this year’s commemoration invites us to recommit ourselves to the poignant invitation of Pope Francis in his 2017 Message for the World Day of Peace (promulgated for the 50th World Day of Peace on January 1, 2017):

“All of us want peace. Many people build it day by day through small gestures and acts; many of them are suffering, yet patiently persevere in their efforts to be peacemakers”. In 2017, may we dedicate ourselves prayerfully and actively to banishing violence from our hearts, words and deeds, and to becoming nonviolent people and to building nonviolent communities that care for our common home. “Nothing is impossible if we turn to God in prayer. Everyone can be an artisan of peace”.

Attaining “world peace” may feel overwhelming for those of us who struggle to even find thirty minutes of peaceful dialogue at our family’s dinner tables. When we’re not crossing things off our ever-extending to do lists or racing to a cavalcade of important activities, we spend our free time engaging in a social media culture that feels anything but “peaceful” or playing video games that glorify military domination. We find our “friends” staking out their various strongly felt political and social positions with great vigor. Often, they even find opposing religious teachings or scriptural references to emphasize their rightness. A friendly workplace conversation about current events can devolve quickly into an argument over DACA, the rights of migrants, or the proper implementation of the Church’s social teaching.

Is peace even possible?

In a world where the “poop emoji” is seen as an acceptable form of communication (and yes, I’ve received it in business emails), “peace” may feel like an unattainable fantasy. But today’s commemoration reminds us that as Catholic Christians, we must continually strive to know and live out this particular Fruit of the Holy Spirit in our own homes, parishes, and communities.

While I can work to change domestic policy with respect to the rights of others, I can also be an instrument of peace to those I encounter along my daily path. By engaging in the duties and responsibilities of Faithful Citizenship, I signal my refusal to assume the worst. With my purchasing decisions, my support of charitable institutions, and my treatment of my neighbors, I am called to live out Pope Francis’ call to be a “peacemaker” in my own simple way.

The good news is that you and I are never alone in this pursuit. Just as Christ reminded his disciples that he would be with them when the going got tough, we “believers” find consolation in knowing that banded together, with, in, and through his love, we have companionship for the challenges that feel so insurmountable.

“Behold, the hour is coming and has arrived when each of you will be scattered to his own home and you will leave me alone. But I am not alone, because the Father is with me. I have told you this so that you might have peace in me. In the world you will have trouble, but take courage, I have conquered the world.” John 16:32-33

We know from reading Scripture that Christ’s formula for “conquering the world” did not mean peace through military strength. We worship a king who counsels us to turn the other cheek, to love our neighbors as ourselves, and to care for the least among us. Just as Jesus taught his disciples with parables and his own actions, we teach our children the path to peace with our intentionally loving deeds. These may be hard to muster sometimes, but they speak more loudly than our vitriolic or judgmental words, or even our unfelt or un-acted-upon nice ones.

On a recent Sunday, during the Sign of Peace, I engaged in a quiet moment of prayer as I extended my hand in fellowship with those around me. I pictured each of us leaving our pews, our hands in turn extended to our own concentric circles of love, friendship, professional affiliation, and civic responsibility. How would our world be different if each of our worldly encounters emulated that liturgical wish of “Peace be with you”? What if we stopped to truly look inside the hearts of those we work with, those who serve us, those we endeavor to know more deeply?

Today’s commemoration of the International Day of Peace offers each of us a reminder that with God’s love, all things are possible. Making peace the norm in a divided world won’t just happen because of a “day” or a resolution, but dedicating ourselves “actively and prayerfully” is a terrific place to start. We are, as Pope Francis has reminded us, “artisans of peace”.

Let’s get busy creating.

Lisa M. Hendey is a Catholic blogger, author, and speaker who worships in the Archdiocese of Los Angeles. Visit her at www.lisahendey.com.


Going Deeper

Learn how the U.S. Catholic bishops work to promote peace around the world. Learn about how one young adult group is facilitating dialogue for peace.

Engaging in Authentic Encounter: A Lesson from 5th Graders

“I cannot engage in dialogue if I am closed to others. Openness? Even more: acceptance! Come to my house, enter my heart. My heart welcomes you. It wants to hear you. . . This capacity for empathy leads to a genuine encounter – we have to progress toward this culture of encounter.”  (Pope Francis—Meeting with Asian Bishops, August 17, 2014 )

There are very dramatic instances of these types of encounters in the scriptures and from many holy women and men in the past. However, fifth graders from St. Paul, Minnesota, provide us with a perfect, down-to-earth example of what Pope Francis is talking about. On Wednesday, May 24, 5th grade students from St. Mark’s Catholic School and Al-Amal School met each other at a park after exchanging letters for several weeks.

In the words of one 5th grader from St. Mark’s Catholic School, this engagement began because “You’re Muslim, we’re Christian, and we want to be friends.

Kelley Stoneburner, a counselor at Al-Amal School, established the first contact with St. Mark’s School. Kelly has a nephew that attends St. Mark’s School; she reached out to Rachel Ogard, the 5th grade teacher at St. Mark’s School, and proposed the idea of having the students become pen pals. Ogard said, “We both wanted to do something to bridge the two cultures, and help the kids really see that, although there are religious differences between us, we are really very alike in many ways.”

St. Mark’s School was very supportive of the proposal. In preparation for this encounter, principal Zachary Zeckser taught the 5th graders at St. Mark’s School a class on Abrahamic religions. “God wants us all to be one,” Principal Zeckser shared with the students as he explored the commonalities between the Jewish, Islamic, and Christian traditions.

The students introduced themselves through their letters; they were intrigued by their differences in culture and faith. They learned new things about each other—like how long Catholic prayers can be and what the hijab is. Ogard shares that her class learned “that many of the kids at Al-Amal School had parents who were foreign born and many spoke several languages…and many of the kids LOVE soccer!”

At Merriam Park, the students played a game of soccer, exchanged personal emails, and introduced their pen pals to their friends. Ogard expressed that the students desired to form friendships outside of the school setting. It was quite simple for them—they met and welcomed new friends into their life. They took the risk of branching out and embracing others in their diversity and discovered the beauty of acceptance.

This example is both inspiring—and challenging—for me as an adult. As hard as I work at being open and accepting others as they are, it is still tempting for me to create barriers and filter openness. It seems unnatural for me to jump into uncomfortable territory and establish connections without reservations. I resonate with Principal Zeckser’s observation that adults can be hesitant, while the children are open and capable of love and relationships with others. Principal Zeckser recounted an experience he had while inquiring about the most appropriate way to greet the mothers of the children from Al-Amal. An eager 5th grader from St. Mark’s School who overheard his conversation interjected, “Yeah, don’t shake their hand—just go say ‘hi’ to them!” In the current climate of fear and discrimination in our world, these 5th graders’ gesture is a powerful testimony of authentic encounter. Their actions say: my heart welcomes you.

William A. Petry is a summer intern for the Catholic Campaign for Human Development at the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops and a student at Ave Maria University in Florida.


Going Deeper

This inspiring story was also recently featured on WeAreSaltAndLight.org!  Read it here and view photos from the students’ interfaith encounter.

Jesus, Healer of Wounds and Source of Mercy

Boston Cardinal Sean P. O’Malley carries a monstrance during eucharistic adoration at the “Convocation of Catholic Leaders: The Joy of the Gospel in America” July 2 in Orlando, Fla. Leaders from dioceses and various Catholic organizations are gathering for the July 1-4 convocation. (CNS photo/Bob Roller)

The recent Convocation of Catholic Leaders: The Joy of the Gospel in America was an unprecedented gathering. Led by 155 bishops, over 3,200 Catholic leaders attended from 159 dioceses and over 200 national Catholic organizations, apostolates, and movements. Inspired by Evangelii Gaudium, the Convocation equipped and re-energized leaders to share the Gospel as missionary disciples.

One special moment set the tone for honest conversations throughout the Convocation–the Sunday evening of adoration and reflection: “Encountering Jesus, Healer of Wounds and Source of Mercy.”

Introducing the reflection, Bishop Daniel Flores of Brownsville, Texas shared: “We pause to pray and reflect together on both our wounds and the ways that we, as individuals and as Church, have participated in or failed to prevent the woundedness of others.” Seán Cardinal O’Malley of Boston led the devotion, which included a Litany of Sorrow based on the five wounds of Christ. Five specific areas were addressed.

The Scandal of Clergy Sexual Abuse

Bishop Flores prayed to Jesus, Healer of Wounds and Source of Mercy: “We implore you to heal the hearts of all those who have been wounded by the evil of sexual abuse, especially within the Church. We pray that your Divine Mercy will move to repentance all those who, in any way, have contributed to this evil by their actions or inactions. Prompt the Church to acknowledge its failures in protecting children in the past and the loss of trust that has resulted. May we never again forget our responsibility to protect the children in the care of the Church.”

A Lack of Respect for Human Dignity

An African American leader prayed for a profound respect for the dignity of every human life: “Awaken in us an acknowledgement of the multitude of ways in which human dignity is threatened–with abortion and assisted suicide, on death row, in abusive homes, and amid racial or ethnic discrimination.”

Selfish Disregard of the Common Good

A young refugee prayed that Jesus would cleanse us of our disregard for others: “Help us to promote peace in war-torn lands, to assist refugees, to seek justice for the poor who suffer each day from homelessness, hunger, and hopelessness, and to protect the beauty of your Creation which sustains us all.”

Suffering from Participation in Abortion

A diocesan Project Rachel director offered the intention for the millions of women and men in our nation who are wounded from their participation in abortions: “Help us as a Church to recognize the unique pain that abortion brings to individuals, families, and our society.”

The Hurt We Have Individually Caused Others

A leader from the National Catholic Partnership on Disability prayed for Jesus to help us acknowledge all the hurt we have ever caused ourselves or others through our thoughts, words, actions, inaction, or times when we excluded others: “Grant us the grace to sincerely repent of our sins. Fill us with your overflowing love and mercy that will enable us to serve as your loving hands and faithful disciples who proclaim your gospel throughout the world with great joy.”

From sins of commission to sins of omission, from excluding persons to racism, from sexual abuse to not addressing domestic violence, from abortion to turning our backs on the inconvenient, as this litany indicates, we needed to begin the Convocation by acknowledging our failures and seeking forgiveness. Thankfully, there were many opportunities for the Sacrament of Confession throughout the course of the Convocation

That grace, and the overflowing love of Jesus, Healer of Wounds and Source of Mercy, made all the difference in making the Convocation an authentic moment of healing for the Church in America.

Tom Grenchik is the Executive Director of the Secretariat of Pro-Life Activities of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops. Learn about the bishops’ pro-life activities at www.usccb.org/prolife

 This post was adapted for ToGoForth. Read the original version at the Life Issues Forum.


Going Deeper

 How are you called to help heal wounds and imitate Jesus’ mercy? Join the Church’s work to fight racism, prevent sexual abuse, protect the unborn, and welcome migrants and refugees.

 

Stand Up and Speak Out: Racism is a Sin

DeKarlos Blackmon, OblSB is the Director of Life, Charity, and Justice for the Diocese of Austin

The tragic events of Charlottesville, Virginia have revealed again the prevalence of racism in the United States. Almost 60 years ago, the U.S. bishops spoke out against discrimination and enforced segregation in the 1968 document “National Race Crisis,” in which the bishops called for us to eradicate racism from society.

In the 1950s and 1960s, various branches of the federal government wrestled with laws and policies restricting equal protection. Some bishops found themselves fighting the architects of division, racism, and separation. We are fighting these battles today.

Undoubtedly, this is a very uncomfortable topic for people in our pews. However, “Racism is a sin, a sin that divides the human family, blots out the image of God among specific members of that family and violates the fundamental human dignity of those called to be children of the same Father” (Brothers and Sisters to Us, 1979). Many of us remained quiet and on the sidelines of issues that affect the whole family of faith.

Catholics pride ourselves on being intrinsically pro-life. During the 1999 Apostolic Visit of Saint Pope John Paul II in Saint Louis, when challenging us to be unconditionally pro-life, the Holy Father directed us “to put an end to every form of racism.” Being intrinsically pro-life means that that we must always stand up for the uncomfortable “right and just” as opposed to merely remaining silent in the face of the inherently “wrong.” The eradication of racism from our society is also what it means to be pro-life.

Considering the entrenched divisions between the Jewish and Samaritan communities, Jesus outlined very clearly in the Good Samaritan parable our responsibility to others. We know very well that “every form of social or cultural discrimination in fundamental personal rights on the grounds of sex, race, color, social conditions, language, or religion must be curbed and eradicated as incompatible with God’s design” (Gaudium et Spes, 29). We have to stand up, speak out and work towards the unity that Saint Paul speaks of, “one Lord, one faith, one baptism” (Ephesians 4:5).

Every day of my life, I look at my black face in the mirror. At the youthful age of 40, I know very well that African Americans among others have not made it over. Regardless of our ethnicity, we must recognize the certain reality that every day is a process of continual, ongoing conversion. The anthem of the Civil Rights movement remains our objective: to overcome some day. Bigotry, violence, and racism should never be tolerated.

So, as we praise God for another day, we should also recall the words of Jesus to “Treat others as we would have them treat us.” (Matthew 7:12) For Christ to increase, we must stand up to be witnesses to the saving power of God. We will overcome prejudice, racism, intolerance, and bias when we stand up and speak out. If you disagree with the politics of hate, it is time to say so. Let not your silence be construed as tacit approval. Life seen as self-centered earthly existence and lived in denial of Christ ends in destruction.

DeKarlos Blackmon is the Secretariat Director of Life, Charity and Justice of the Diocese of Austin. He is the Past Supreme Knight of the Knights of Peter Claver, and the President of the International Alliance of Catholic Knights.

Going Deeper

On September 9, join Catholics around the country for a Day of Prayer for Peace in Our Communities. Visit the USCCB Racism page for prayer and action resources to use on this Day and beyond.

Remembering Global Persecution of Christians during the Fortnight for Freedom

In 2011, Shahbaz Bhatti, a Catholic and Pakistan’s Federal Minister for Minorities Affairs, was gunned down just outside his home in Islamabad. Last year, Church officials in Pakistan opened a cause for his beatification. Bhatti’s life was striking for the depth of his vocation. He had taken up his post out of a calling to protect Pakistan’s downtrodden minorities. Knowing that his life was in danger, he had renounced marriage so as not to leave behind a fatherless family. Shortly before he was assassinated, he stated in a video, “I believe in Jesus Christ who has given his own life for us, and I am ready to die for a cause. I’m living for my community … and I will die to defend their rights.”

As the Church rightly draws our attention to the growing curtailment of religious freedom in the United States in recent years during this Fortnight for Freedom, let us not forget that Christians around the world like Bhatti suffer the violation of their religious freedom through killing, torture, arbitrary arrest, unjust interrogation, the burning of their churches and property, and numerous forms of heavy discrimination.

“How many people are being persecuted because of their faith, forced to abandon their homes, their places of worship, their lands, their loved ones!,” exclaimed Pope Francis in a recent video. A report published earlier this year by the Center for Studies on New Religions in Turin, Italy, held that some 90,ooo Christians were killed for their faith around the world in 2016 and that between 500 and 600 million Christians were in some manner persecuted or barred from living out their faith.

While the mainstream media and major human rights groups by and large have not given the global persecution of Christians the coverage that it deserves, we can be grateful that some important voices have brought the trend to the world’s attention. Critical, for instance, was the U.S. State Department’s decision to designate as genocide the persecution of Yazidis, Christians, and other religious minorities in Syria and Iraq in March 2016.

Once the world comes to acknowledge the persecution of Christians, the question must then be asked: What do Christians do when they are persecuted? How do they respond?

Bhatti responded to persecution not only through being ready to accept martyrdom but also through constructively promoting religious freedom through political means. For instance, he advocated for the reform of Pakistan’s draconian blasphemy laws, constructed coalitions of religious communities, and counseled the forgiveness of his enemies.

How Christians around the world respond to persecution is the subject of the Under Caesar’s Sword project, based at the University of Notre Dame and the Religious Freedom Institute. The project’s premise is that with good answers to these questions in hand, the rest of the world can exercise more effective solidarity with persecuted Christians.

On a generous grant from the Templeton Religion Trust, the project assembled a team of fourteen world class scholars of global Christianity and sent them out to investigate how Christian communities respond to persecution in countries ranging from Iran to Indonesia, Syria to Sri Lanka.

The findings were numerous (and reported here). The most common responses to persecution were strategies of survival, through which communities seek to remain alive and to practice their most basic activities. The second most common response was strategies of accommodation, through which they seek to strengthen their position by constructing relationships with other churches, religious communities, and secular actors – much like Bhatti did. The least common was strategies of confrontation, which involves direct opposition to persecuting regimes, including martyrdom, the fate that Bhatti ultimately met. Striking was the rarity of violence as a response to persecution. Evangelicals and Pentecostals suffered more persecution, and reacted more assertively to persecution, than older, established churches like Catholic and Orthodox communities. The most central finding was that Christian communities engage in a creative pragmatism by which they undertake short-term measures to build their position with the long-term theological hope that one day the persecuting regime will fall and that they will then blossom.

With these findings in hand, we who live in relatively free environments may actively support our beleaguered brothers and sisters who, like Bhatti, struggle to respond faithfully to persecution.

“I ask you: how many of you pray for persecuted Christians?,” queries Pope Francis.

No time is better to undertake such prayer – as well as other forms of support – than the Fortnight For Freedom.

 Daniel Philpott is Professor of Political Science at the University of Notre Dame

 

Forging a Path to Interreligious Action for Peace

What does it take to build peace among people divided by religion? Is it dialogue about beliefs, traditions, and values that creates greater understanding, and thus more harmony? Or is it joint action that generates cooperation and strengthens relationships? The resounding answer from Catholic Relief Services’ interreligious peacebuilding experience is: both. Talking theology matters, but so does the opportunity to work side-by-side and put values into practice.

In Bosnia-Herzegovina, where Catholic Relief Services (CRS) has been supporting peace and development efforts since the height of the country’s civil war, programs invite people to connect through dialogue and action. Young people, many of whom attend segregated schools and have never heard stories of the war from the perspective of other ethnic and religious groups, jointly visit one another’s places of worship, perform musical concerts together, and collaborate on art exhibitions, and carry out cooperative community initiatives across religious lines. These shared activities are important to create common experiences and connections.

But deeply held perceptions and attitudes do not change through these joint activities alone; it is also important to delve into values and histories that connect and divide people. Young people have the opportunity to do so through seminars, dialogue sessions, and participatory theatre. Another important tool that CRS has been using in Bosnia-Herzegovina has been “Speaking Out” events, in which war victims share their stories of suffering at the hands of other ethnic and religious groups, and their journeys towards reconciliation. For many in the audience, young and older, this may be the first time that they are confronted with the “other side’s” narrative of the past. While this is challenging, it also opens them to the possibility of greater empathy for people from the other groups.

The stronger relationships and improved mutual understanding that emerge from activities like these prepare the ground for concrete steps towards reconciliation. These can include local initiatives involving ordinary citizens as well as building a vision for changes in the institutions that touch the lives of the broader population. A case in point is a national “Platform for Peace” just recently adopted by the highest level of government in Bosnia-Herzegovina. This Platform, developed at CRS’ initiative in collaboration with local partners and a range of key leaders, commits government officials and other authorities to work for long-term peace and reconciliation through measures such as institutionalizing trust-building mechanisms, reducing divisive rhetoric, and promoting peace education in schools. Over 40% of the country’s mayors have also signed on to the Platform for Peace, and have pledged to dedicate resources from their local budgets to put it into action.

In another landmark move, the deans of the country’s three theology schools – Catholic, Orthodox, and Muslim – recently announced a joint Master’s degree program in interreligious peacebuilding. This program, which will accept its first students in the fall, is the first of its kind in the region. It is the fruit of several years of patient and steady work on the part of the seminary representatives, supported and accompanied by CRS as they worked to bring their vision to life. Graduates of the program will emerge with a strong grounding in the three faith traditions’ teaching on peace, justice, and ethics; internship experiences will also give them strong practical skills to contribute to forging unity in their communities and country.

What barriers divide people of different faiths in your community? What opportunities do you see to forge connections across these barriers, through dialogue and action?

Nell Bolton is Senior Technical Advisor for Justice & Peacebuilding at Catholic Relief Services.

To learn more about what works in interreligious peacebuilding, download a copy of CRS’ new book, Interreligious Action for Peace: Studies in Muslim-Christian Cooperation.