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"The Challenge of Peace" Twenty Years Later: Avenues of Hope for Shaping a Peaceful World

A Woodstock Forum with John Borelli, Bryan Hehir, Cynthia Sampson, and William Vendley (October 15, 2003)

published in Woodstock Report No. 76, December 2003

Twenty years ago, the U.S. Catholic bishops issued their pastoral letter, The Challenge of Peace: God's Promise and Our Response. The letter was in many ways definitive of the Church's engagement with questions of war and peace near the twilight of the Cold War, though the bishops clearly stood on the shoulders of Pope John XIII, whose encyclical letter Pacem in Terris was issued 40 years ago, as well as the fathers of the Second Vatican Council. Today, the superpower rivalry is history, but the weapons of mass destruction that it wrought are all too contemporary, as Father Bryan Hehir notes in his presentation below. What are the new challenges of peace today? Notwithstanding the ambiguities of their geopolitical presence, what role might religions play in fostering a dialogue of cultures and ushering enemies to the verge of forgiveness? And, what are some of the more promising methods that have emerged in the nascent field of "peacebuilding"? These were among the questions taken up during a Woodstock Forum held October 15, 2003 at Georgetown University, bringing together Father Hehir (who was the principal drafter of the bishops' 1983 pastoral letter) along with two prominent practitioners of religious peacebuilding, William Vendley and Cynthia Sampson. Moderating the forum was John Borelli, an ecumenist who advises the bishops. Here is an edited version of the presentations.



by John Borelli

"At all times, the Church carries the responsibility of reading the signs of the times and of interpreting them in the light of the gospel if it is to carry out its task." These are the opening words of Gaudium et Spes, the Pastoral Constitution on the Church in the Modern World, The Pastoral Constitution stands at the beginning of one of several revolutions in Catholic thought initiated at the Second Vatican Council. Almost 20 years later in 1983, the Catholic bishops of the United States issued their pastoral letter The Challenge of Peace: God's Promise and Our Response. The letter had an enormous impact on public discussion of war and peace, especially the nuclear arms race. In paragraph 13 of The Challenge of Peace, the bishops observed that three signs of the times particularly influence the writing of the letter:

First, quoting Pope John Paul II's address at the United Nations, "The world wants peace; the world needs peace." Second, quoting the Pastoral Constitution: "The arms race is one of the greatest curses on the human race, and the harm it inflicts upon the poor is more than can be endured." Third, it says the unique dangers and dynamics of the nuclear arms race present qualitatively new problems that must be addressed by fresh application of traditional moral principles.

The expression "signs of the times" was a popular one during the Second Vatican Council, attributed to Pope John XXIII who surprised everyone by calling the Council. John XXIII had us all reading the signs of the times in those days. We were celebrating a new discovery of bringing the Church into the modern world. John XXIII, two months before he died, issued his encyclical Pacem in Terris ("Peace on Earth") and used the signs of the times as one of the headings.

Tonight we have a distinguished panel that's reading the signs of the times as we look at the Challenge of Peace 20 years later - and, as we look at avenues of hope for shaping a peaceful world 40 years after Pacem in Terris. This is not the same world it was 20 years ago when we were in the Cold War. At that time, religious pluralism was among the factors in the conflicts; Vietnam comes to mind. Today, religious pluralism is not only a significant factor in conflicts, but also -- we hope -- a means to resolution.


A presentation by Rev. Bryan Hehir

Rev. J. Bryan Hehir is president of Catholic Charities USA and distinguished professor of ethics and international affairs at Georgetown University's School of Foreign Service. He was dean of Harvard Divinity School from 1999-2001.

I'll begin by picking up on something that John Borelli has already said, namely to tie the 40th anniversary of the encyclical Peace on Earth to the pastoral letter published 20 years later. Between those two, you had the Second Vatican Council and the Gaudium et Spes, The Pastoral Constitution. And, you really can't understand the The Challenge of Peace without those other two documents. More specifically, if Pacem in Terris and Gaudium et Spes had not been published, I do not think you could have produced the pastoral letter because you wouldn't have had the doctrinal undergirding that would have given the bishops the confidence to go ahead and do what they did.

The Council opened on October 11th 1963 and within a week we were in the Cuban Missile Crisis. And the more we research the Cuban Missile Crisis, the more we know of how close we came to a nuclear exchange. It is a documented fact that John XXIII as a result of his experience of missile crisis determined to write Pacem in Terris nine months later (or to have Pietro Pavane write it and he would sign it). And so there was a clear connection between the Cuban Missile Crisis, the Council, and the encyclical letter.

Secondly, Gaudium et Spes, to some degree, built on parts of Pacem in Terris, even though it was a different kind of document. Pacem in Terris was a classic natural law argument. That is to say, it was almost entirely philosophical, in a sense, the climax of the 20th century papacy's social teaching based on natural law. Gaudium et Spes, the Conciliar document, was a much more theological text, a much more religiously based text. But what John XXIII had done in Pacem in Terris was to look at the nuclear age together with the ancient doctrine of Catholicism - that some uses of force could be morally justifiable. John XXIII basically pushed that question to the edge of the envelope. There was great debate about a passage in the encyclical about whether war could ever be an instrument of rationality in the nuclear age. And of course, traditionally the Church had said precisely that it could be an instrument of rational use of force that was morally acceptable. The Council reaffirmed this basic teaching on just war doctrine, in a world that had no center of political authority. But, raising up the peace side of the argument in Pacem in Terris, the Council gave a more structured proposal - that Catholics who held the position that all uses of force are morally wrong were holding a position that would be welcome within the Catholic Church. That was not a position, for example, that Pius XII had held only 10 years before the Council document appeared. So John XXIII in a sense broke open a debate on war and peace that reinvigorated an ancient tradition. Gaudium et Spes reaffirmed the traditional argument about the use of force, opened up a new possibility for Catholics who were unconvinced by an argument that force could be morally acceptable, and said that they had status within the Catholic community.

Two Traditions of Teaching. In one of the broad areas of reflection in their 1983 letter, the bishops took this debate on Pacem in Terris and Gaudium et Spes and tried to crystallize it. So the document outlines in some detail the tradition of ethics on the use of force - that some uses of force are morally acceptable. And it affirms that as a valid moral position, particularly when one is talking about the role of the state -- that they have a duty to defend their society, and therefore must, in principle, have the possibility to use force within moral limits. At the same time, the bishops went further really than Vatican II and developed a more fulsome argument about non-violence and what role it played in the Christian community and in Christian history, and what role it could play for Catholics living in the 1980s. This argument - that there were these two different roads [of non-violence and just-war] that Catholics thinking about war and peace could reflect upon and decide where they stood -- was said by some to be incoherent. It was said you couldn't maintain those two positions in a single document. We thought it was coherent to say you could maintain the two as choices that individuals would make, but that we reaffirmed the right of the state to use force under certain circumstances.

That led next to the second major piece of this document, which came at a time when the Cold War was reinvigorated and the nuclear danger was back with a new sharpness. The question was: Could any use of these weapons be morally acceptable in light of the traditional doctrine? The bishops broke that question down into three different steps. (I should say, as a footnote, that to some degree, The Challenge of Peace is a period piece. You couldn't write that document today as it was written then.) On the one hand, they ruled out any first use of nuclear weapons. That put them in opposition to existing NATO doctrine, which did not rule out the first use of nuclear weapons. Secondly, they said regarding the second, limited use of nuclear weapons, that there were huge doubts about whether it could be contained as limited, but they did not rule it out absolutely and totally. Part of the reason they did not do that was their third step, which was a judgment on not the use of nuclear weapons, but on deterrents. And they used the argument that deterrents basically could be abided as a transitional strategy in order to prevent the use of nuclear weapons in a world in which they existed, and to hopefully transit to a point where deep powerful political changes and arms controls would radically reduce the dangers of the nuclear age.

The third part of the pastoral letter was devoted much more to what today is called peacebuilding, that is to say not thinking about what used to be called "the limit case" -- could you ever conceive of the use of nuclear weapons? -- but thinking much more not only in terms of nuclear war, but war generally, about what could be done preventively to shape the conditions of world affairs that would make war less likely. This again was a theme of John XXIII in Peace on Earth. The structure of that letter argued that it was necessary to think about how you build a structure of moral relationships at four levels of human affairs: the interpersonal level -- the relationship between the person and the state; relationships among states; and finally, the relationships of individuals and their state and the wider human community. The third part of the pastoral letter tried to reflect upon those aspects of world politics that would help shape that final level of world affairs that John XXIII talked about -- how you built relationships based on truth, justice, freedom, and love. That part of the letter did not receive nearly as much attention as the first two parts.

Three Challenges of Peace. We do not face a world, I think, that is as overwhelmingly dangerous as the high point of the nuclear age. There, one was threatened with catastrophic damage. Catastrophic damage that had no limits, that could be carried out within a matter of an hour. Technologically, we can still do that today, but I think the threat has been sharply reduced. Still, the world is surely at least as complicated as it was then, and that is because there are three challenges of peace today, each part of a legacy of a different stage of world politics over the last 50 years. There is the legacy of the Cold War, which is the legacy of weapons of mass destruction. The Cold War is over; weapons of mass destruction still exist. And while the possibility of catastrophic damage, I think, is lessened, the likelihood that a nuclear weapon will be used -- a single use of a single nuclear weapon -- is probably greater today than it was in 1983. Secondly, there is the legacy of the 1990s -- the challenge of creeping chaos, as embodied in situations like Somalia, Rwanda, Kosovo, Bosnia, Sierra Leone, and Liberia. Here one didn't face catastrophic high tech damage; one faced primitive violence that produced massive human suffering. And the major powers saw no vital interests at stake, no national interests. So the preeminent example of creeping chaos was that almost half a century after the world said that one of the dominant lessons of World War II was never again genocide, we had documented genocide, and the international community did nothing about it. By the end of the 1990s, there was no consensus on an effective doctrine of humanitarian military intervention.

Finally, there is the legacy of a new century, and that is the fact of terrorism. Transnational terrorism -- groups of private individuals who have the capacity to wreak massive damage halfway around the world. We did not expect that private groups could do that. My colleague at Harvard, Joe Nye, calls terrorism the privatization of war, and that is a change.

My point is that we do not have consensus on any of these questions. Weapons of mass destruction, humanitarian military intervention, or the question of terrorism. And a good example of how confused the debate can be was the Iraq debate, which embodied all three of these questions. So the three legacies of the last 50 years were embedded in one case study. And the debate did not impress me with its luminosity.


A presentation by William Vendley

Dr. William F. Vendley is secretary general of the World Conference of Religions for Peace, a non-governmental organization with headquarters in New York. He has helped mediate conflicts in the Balkans, West Africa, and the Horn of Africa.

I would bring our memory back to the kind of chaos domain that Bryan cited as one of the challenges today. Think of Sierra Leone. You recall that that made it into our presses simply because of the brutality of that conflict. Little children were conscripted, and were typically made to kill someone in their village. Not well reported, it was outside of the sphere of interests of big states.

In the midst of it all, Islamic and Christian women, part of an interreligious council in Sierra Leone, went behind enemy lines and secured the release from the rebels of some 50 children. They were able to bring them back and give them to the president. And that empowered the president to begin the process of dialogue among the rebels. He really couldn't that before because too many of his people had been too injured to allow him to sell short their suffering to dignify the rebel population. That ensued finally in a set of peace talks involving professional mediators and regional and international representatives. Still, the interreligious council was called in by both sides, and having been privileged to assist them, I know full well that when the formal mediators couldn't mediate, the religious leaders did so.

And that is multi-religious conversation - not simply an intellectual discourse, but a conversation toward action. I think of Martin Luther King, on the Mall in Washington, D.C., transposing his religiously rooted cares into, one could say, a secular idiom, but I prefer the word "public idiom." At the March on Washington, Martin Luther King becomes religiously bilingual. And that's a very, very critical precision on how multi-religious conversations go forward. The friends in Sierra Leone were Muslims and Christians. They didn't cease being Muslims or Christians. But they didn't put either the Quar'ran or the Gospel as the foundation of their respective conversation and ultimate action. They had to become bilingual. They had to map out deeply held, and widely shared cares. If you will, Bryan, there is a faint resonance here with the natural law role that functions within a specific faith tradition in a now far more extended context, in which some form of consensual care functions as a second language, even as one remains rooted in a primary religious discourse, be that Hindu, Buddhist, Christian, Islamic or otherwise.

Seeds of Spiritual Extension. How might this multi-religious conversation lead to an extending of tradition? Cynthia was with me when this story was shared with me. It was in South Africa, right after the apartheid period. There was an indigenous religious woman there, and she told me about what happens in her tribal society when someone injures another, let's say strikes their head. What they do is take the injured person and put their head into the hands of the person who injured them. And the person who struck the blow washes the wound and nurses the wound. I was amazed to find such a stunning ritual of reconciliation, one so resonant with my own, which involves acknowledgement of fault and repentance, restitution and some way of being brought back into a relationship. That little story I share because it's a seed for this larger question of extending traditions. I felt she had something that was useful, no doubt, in her own community, but was an analogue that could be carried forward in a dialogue with other traditions.

And here is where the challenge of religions working together is really at the cutting edge of shaping our traditions into this next period of time. Each of our traditions has to re-hear itself vis-a-vis the challenges we are confronting. What fits? How do I make a correlation? What's useful to help me to re-articulate what it means to be a Christian or a Buddhist in face of this challenge? But that re-saying today involves the double creativity. We have to say it within our own churches, but we also have to become bilingual, and that bilingualism is fundamentally the way in which the religious communities find deeply held and widely shared meanings.

I think one of the beauties of this moment of having problems cut across boundaries, particularly conflict problems, is that it drives us into the heart of our capacity to respond. I'm speaking of spirituality. Students of conflict are brilliant in their analyses of how group identity, coupled with systematically distorted social relations, can be exploited by cunning and often very vicious political leaders. There's something deeper, however, that lies at the heart of our own formation as communities. And in many ways, this something is disclosed in the Crucifixion and what I find in all of the religious traditions as they search for what that lovely African woman shared with me -- that extraordinary resource in their spiritualities, where there is the possibility of forgiveness. We are barely beginning, in learning how to transpose our grammars of forgiveness, to social healing, to the injury that occurs between societies and among communities. We are challenged to find how our grammars of forgiveness can be transacted, surely within our own hearts, surely within our respective religious communities, but finally between our communities, and maybe more broadly yet, with our memories as a human people with a cumulative weight of injury and suffering that simply is ours.


A presentation by Cynthia Sampson

Cynthia Sampson is president of Peace Discovery Initiatives, a faith-based organization based in Arlington, Virginia. Her latest book, Positive Approaches to Peacebuilding (Pact Publications), was released in July.

I'd like to briefly identify what I consider to be three strategic frontiers in the development of peacebuilding globally and then focus on a recently identified and significant thrust in the peacebuilding process.

Strategic peacebuilding frontier number 1 is for peace builders to begin to leverage our efforts horizontally through collaboration with other related fields, such as international development, environment, humanitarian assistance, and human rights. Practitioners from these sister fields need to share their assumptions, principles, concepts, and best practices, and find pragmatic ways to communicate, coordinate, and when appropriate, strategically cooperate in their social change efforts. This is easy to say, but it's actually a pretty tall order. These are quite distinct fields.

Strategic frontier number 2 is for practitioners and scholars of conflict transformation and peacebuilding to become much more effective in communicating vertically. That is, with top-level policy and decision makers. That's happening in European and other countries - the work of Bill Vendley and the WCRP testify to that - but much less so in the United States. Several weeks after the terrorist attacks of September 11th, some conflict resolution scholars from major academic programs within driving range of D.C. met at the United States Institute of Peace to try to understand the virtually complete lack of voice that our field had had in the media and quarters of power after 9/11. We asked: Is our field dead? In fact, one of the major foundations funding international conflict resolution organizations pulled the plug in virtually all funding in that category after 9/11. It said: we've been funding international conflict resolution and it hasn't worked. I'd suggest it reached the exactly wrong conclusion, that it needed to be funding it much more than it had, but clearly we need to be much more strategic in reaching governmental and inter-governmental players with new ideas and approaches if we are to advance as a global community beyond the geopolitics of military might that dominate today.

The third strategic frontier is for peacebuilding as a field globally to tackle the whole issue of funding and to develop and endow funding mechanisms that will provide substantial sustainable support for this work in perpetuity. This field must gain much greater independence from the vagaries of changing interests and priorities of major foundations. And there are many creative, although still embryonic ideas developing along these lines. So each of these strategic frontiers would represent significant maturing of this still relatively young field of peacebuilding. It's only a few decades old. And there are initiatives underway in each of these areas, but much, much more needs to be done.

Beyond Problem-Solving: Now I'd like to turn to the topic of our new book, Positive Approaches to Peacebuilding: A Resource for Innovators. Positive approaches in general, not only in peacebuilding, are a set of concepts, theories, and activities for working towards changing relationships, organizations, communities, and other human systems. They were developed predominantly in the organizational development field and in education and training, psychotherapy and counseling. Perhaps the best known positive-change methodology is called appreciative inquiry or AI. This is a four-stage process from visioning to designing and implementing system change. Positive approaches are distinguished from more traditional problem-focused approaches by the assumptions they hold and the characteristics they share. And one primary assumption is that in all human systems, there are things that work well or have in the past. And these can be identified, analyzed, and built upon as the foundation for envisioning change in the system.

For example, one chapter in our book written by Joseph Montville, a leading figure in the conflict resolution field, and fellow practitioner Heidi Paulson Windner, is about the history of creative co-existence in Muslim Spain in the medieval Mediterranean, which was a golden age of thriving and achievement by Muslims, Jews, and Christians co-existing together. This history is now being retrieved through scholarly research and publishing, conferences, and tours as a means of offering positive images and examples of co-existence among the Abrahamic faiths, especially in the Middle East. So that would be a positive approach that builds on past success. A basic tenet of social constructionist thought which informs much of the thinking about positive approaches is that there is a direct link between image and action and between positive image and positive action. These approaches emphasize eliciting and telling a story as a means of conveying positive examples that inspire and give hope in the human experience and also that convey holistic wisdom, knowledge, and meaning.

Another chapter tells a very moving story of inter-ethnic dialogue groups. One of them involved Bosnian Serbs and Muslims in the post-war period in Bosnia meeting together with a dialogue group of second-generation Holocaust survivors who were Germans and Jews. In this powerful encounter, the Holocaust serves to give the people from the more recent war, the Bosnians, a living example of healed relationships and associated behavior such as compassionate listening and ability to acknowledge past wrongs.

These and other positive approaches place emphasis on visioning and creating a positive image of a preferred future. They draw the analytical focus to the positive potential of people. Or, in the case of peacebuilding, to the local capacities for peace in society: the culture, the religion, the institutions, etc. They have a forward-looking orientation to producing change rather than focusing on the ills of the past