Catholic Diocese of Spokane, Washington

From the

Official News Magazine of the Diocese of Spokane

Deacon Eric Meisfjord, Editor
P.O. Box 48, Spokane WA 99210
(509) 358-7340; FAX: (509) 358-7302

Caritas works to build peace throughout a troubled world

the Inland Register

(From the Feb. 26, 2004 edition of the Inland Register)

Caritas trainers

From left: Brian Starken of Ireland, John Katunga of the Congo, and Giselle Huamani Ober, originally of Peru, lead Caritas training sessions in Chicago recently. (IR photo from Judy Butler)

International humanitarian organizations that try to pick up the broken pieces of war are becoming more involved in reconciliation and peacebuilding. Caritas Internationalis, a world-wide confederation of 162 Catholic relief, development and social service organizations, is committed to actively work on the prevention of conflict and to promote sustainable peace.

Caritas staff are present in over 200 countries and territories through their member organizations. Catholic Relief Services (CRS), which was formed as a response to the devastation in Europe following World War II, the Catholic Campaign for Human Development, and Catholic Charities USA are the member organizations in the United States. The Canadian Catholic Office of Development and Peace is the fourth member in the North American region of Caritas.

Donna Hanson, Spokane Director of Catholic Charities is the volunteer coordinator for the North America region of Caritas. She has participated in four Caritas General Assemblies. Each of them has increased the focus on reconciliation and peacebuilding. “North America plans to incorporate peace building into our ongoing work in the United States and around the world,” said Hanson.

Caritas published Peace-building: A Caritas Training Manual (2002) and began to conduct a training-of-trainers process in each of its seven regions around the world.

Peacebuilding refers to the long-term commitment to create stable communities and societies. Conflicts, like a fire, go through many stages offering different opportunities for peacebuilding skills.

In the early stages, materials for the fire are collected. During this latent stage people often experience structural violence or situations of injustice where they are treated unequally. The apartheid system in South Africa was an example of oppression without necessarily engaging in physical violence.

When some spark or confrontation lights the fire and it begins to burn, the covert or structural forms of violence are generally rejected publicly. For example, when Rosa Parks refused to give up her seat on a bus to a white man, her arrest sparked a major boycott. Advances were made in the civil rights movement and success was achieved through the nonviolent witness of Martin Luther King and others.

During the third stage, the fire burns out of control and those involved in the conflict engage in overt violence. Often emergency services are necessary.

When the fire abates, just the coals continue to glow and the fire can burn itself out or re-ignite if new fuel is added. Most conflicts cycle through periods of increased fighting and relative calm. Peace accords may be signed but if the causes of structural violence and injustices are not addressed, fighting may begin again.

In the final stage, the fire is out and the embers are cool. It is time to rebuild, to reintegrate the soldiers into civil society and to focus on regeneration which may take many years.

The education of trainers describing these stages for North American personnel took place in Chicago under the leadership of Brian Starken of Ireland, Kenyan John Katunga of the Congo,and Giselle Huamani Ober a native of Peru who now lives in the United States.

Judy Butler, who attended on behalf of Catholic Charities of Spokane, said, “There are alternatives to violence. It gives me hope to know that, with the proper training, people can be instruments of peace in conflicts around the world. All of us can work in this country to build a more just society: to increase tolerance and promote coexistence, and to address structural sources of injustice and conflict. I am grateful for the peacebuilding mandate of Caritas and its member organizations. I look forward to continuing the dialogue and training in the United States.”

(See for more information about Caritas.)

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