Book review – Peacebuilding

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This groundbreaking volume is the result of a four-year research project (2005-2008) sponsored by the Catholic Peacebuilding Network (CPN), in collaboration with the Krok Institute of International Peace Studies at the University of Notre Dame and the Bernardin Centre for Theology and Ministry at the Catholic Union in Chicago. The book develops as an extended conversation about two main questions: Why should the Catholic Church be interested in peacebuilding, and, if so, what is a Catholic approach to peacebuilding.

The book shows that peacebuilding matters, and more specifically that Catholic peacebuilding matters. In todayís world, transformation of conflicts, healing of wounds and building of a sustainable peace is a universal ethical and political priority. There is no claim that insights and practices of peace are exclusive to the Catholic Church. They are rather shared by other Christians as well as by other religious traditions. Neither are they exclusive to religious faith. Building peace requires ‘a participatory process and pedagogy in all spheres of society’ (p.4). Particularly relevant is in this regard a theology and practice of interreligious dialogue, especially a dialogue of life and of religious experiences at the grassroots level.

At the same time, it is recognized that the Catholic Church has something to offer to the work of peace. Thus, it is stressed that from the institutional point of view, the ubiquity of the Catholic Church and its internal organization of local communities, College of the Bishops and Papacy, allow it to be present at all the levels involved in peacebuilding, from the grassroots to the national and international leadership, and to constitute in the world a political as well as ecclesiastical network to be put to the service of peace.

Peacebuilding is portrayed as a ‘journey’ in search of restoration of humanity, community, God’s order and dialogue: a re-humanization of the victims first but also of the perpetrators, making of both a new creation, through a change both in people and institutions. ‘Reconciliation’ is taken as key metaphor for this journey to peace, for reconciliation involves the transformation of relationships. Three key aspects are identified: 1) truth telling, as a public acknowledgement of the victims’ suffering and a recreation of the society’s narrative; 2) restorative justice, which goes beyond its commutative and administrative forms of justice, is victim-specific and looks forward to a long-term social healing; 3) forgiveness, as the overcoming of hatred and enmity and the rebuilding of severed bonds of trust, transforming destructive memories into redemptive ones. The whole process aims at building a ‘positive’ peace that goes beyond protecting and restoring sovereignty toward creating an environment of peace.

Altogether, the authors see Catholic peacebuilding as grounded in the Catholic social teaching as it has been developed since the end of the nineteenth century. Central to the various proposals for peacebuilding are key values from the Catholic social teaching, such as the dignity of the human person, the common good, the option for the poor translated as option for the victims, participation, justice and development, solidarity and subsidiarity. The concept itself of ìpositiveî peace, as a restructuring of relationships beyond the absence of overt conflict, is somehow parte of the Catholic social tradition. It is, however, made clear that Catholic peacebuilding and Catholic social teaching are not coterminous. Peacebuilding  is something new, capable of reshaping the social thinking and practice of the Church and to deepen the way she reads the gospel and appreciates the mystery of salvation.

First of all, the fact that ideas about and practices of peacebuilding have risen in response to specific context and are not always universalizable puts into question the assumed ‘universal’ character of the Catholic social teaching.. The Catholic social doctrine developed as a response to industrialization in Europe. Today it is inadequate to address the questions pressing upon the developing countries or arising from the postmodern world globalization.

Secondly, a reshaping of the Catholic social tradition is called upon by the emerging ‘ethics of peacebuilding’. Much more attention is needed to structural sin and forms of neo-colonialism as sources of conflict and violence. But especially new issues, vital to peacebuilding, must be addressed: 1) the growing presumption against war and the consequent stance for non-violence; 2) the question of conflict resolution, for which no real theological and ethical provision is found in the Catholic tradition; 3) the theme of restorative justice, with its accent on reconciliation and forgiveness in public life.

Ultimately, the book witnesses a shift that is taking place in the Catholic social theory and practice. A new awareness is growing of the deeply conflictual nature of human reality that cannot be put right but only aggravated by war. Correspondingly, ‘just peace is emerging as a new paradigm that parallels but pushes beyond the just-war tradition’ (p. 75). The Christian narrative of God reconciling in Christ the world lies at the basis of Catholic peacebuilding. In peacebuilding the lure of the shalom of God’s kingdom is at work and the ‘Good News’ is preached to the poor. Peacebuilding becomes a new name of the Church’s mission in the world.

Benito De Marchi

Peacebuilding. Catholic Theology Ethics. and Praxis. Edited by Robert J. Schreiter, R. Scott Appleby, and Gerard F. Powers, Maryknoll, New York: Orbis Books, 2010 ñ XIV+466pp.


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