|Global: reconciliation, recreating right relationships|
Thirty-third anniversary of the foundation of the Jesuit Refugee Service
Rome, 14 November 2013 – As JRS, we believe our presence among refugees can be an "effective sign of God's love and reconciliation". Indeed, it would be practically impossible for JRS to fulfil its mission without focusing on reconciliation.
Throughout its history, JRS has always worked towards reconciliation, usually without naming it as such. We engage in community programmes that involve peace education, dialogue and conflict resolution. Educational and psychosocial support, our areas of special focus, foster healing and hope. Our advocacy promotes the search for truth and accountability necessary for reconciliation and justice; and our research produces analyses of the causes of conflict and displacement.
However, before talking about reconciliation, we must first talk about the causes of conflict, hatred, division and the cycle of violence that make reconciliation – 'recreating right relationships' – so necessary.
Take the example of Syria. What began as an 'Arab Spring' in pursuit of political reform, was met with the violence of the regime, and swiftly degenerated into a vicious cycle of violence and counter-violence, of sectarian conflict that nobody seems to be able to end. The injustice leads to more injustice, hatred to more hatred, killing to more killing. Like all wars, it seems totally pointless.
I had the very same feeling 15 years ago, here in Luanda, Angola, where I am writing these lines. Angola had already suffered almost 25 years of war and destruction when, in late 1998, the warring factions set out for another ever more bitter round of conflict. More people died, were displaced, lost their homes. Such destruction has no meaning, it is utterly senseless.
That is what theologian Dietrich Bonhoeffer wrote from a Nazi prison in Berlin: evil is stupid. Violence is self-destructive. At some point, it becomes unsustainable and destroys itself. At some point the vicious cycle breaks. It stops because people are exhausted. In Angola, the violence stopped the moment the rebel leader died in 2002.
Stopping the vicious circle of hatred, violence and death needs much more than a victory of one group over the other. Mercy, forgiveness, healing and reconciliation are necessary – the grace of forgiving the unforgivable – a peace that the 'world' cannot give…
Even if conflicts end on the battlefield and/or a political level, hearts remain deeply wounded; the beloved who have been lost are gone for good. Reconciliation touches this deeper level. If evil is stupid, then we can say goodness, forgiving the unforgivable, is wise and prudent because it breaks the vicious cycle.
The JRS workers in Syria, from Alawite, Christian and Sunni communities, represent the many people who have been wounded, who have lost so much. Yet together they serve forcibly displaced people, the wounded and victims of the war. In Christian theological terms, they stand with the crucified, the innocent victim who prayed "forgive them because they know not what they do".
So many who take up arms in Syria, in eastern Congo and other places do not know what they are doing. The blindness of violence has darkened their hearts. The grace of forgiveness gives new light. We pray always for this grace of peace that only God can give and we work so that it may become a reality in the lives of the forcibly displaced we serve.
Peter Balleis SJ, JRS International Director