How the Church can help bring peace to Africa

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Grassroots movements, local communities, and faith-based organizations – especially the Catholic Church – have an important role to play in building peace and preventing conflict in Africa, said a Holy See representative.

Archbishop Bernardito Auza, the apostolic nuncio leading the Holy See's permanent observer mission to the United Nations, spoke July 28 to an open session of the U.N. Security Council on peace building in Africa.

Faith-based and grassroots groups have "concrete knowledge of local realities" and immediate interactions with locals, the archbishop said.

"They empower individuals and societies at a local level, identify and nurture new leaders, and rally communities to work together for the greater human good. They get results that local individuals and communities can easily relate to and identify with."

Archbishop Auza said the Catholic Church's direct contributions to peace building and conflict prevention come through its "capillary presence" in its tens of thousands of institutions: its hospitals, schools, and other places of formation.

Catholic humanitarian and charitable agencies help provide emergency assistance, foster village dialogues, and help build small businesses' capacities.

"The Holy See oversees this vast network of quick-impact, medium-term and long-term programs to foster the best possible levels of education and health care, and to assure continuing efforts to prevent conflict and to build peace through dialogue and integral human development," the nuncio said.

Archbishop Auza said the Holy See sees that sustainable peace needs people who come together in concrete dialogue to give a fair hearing and to agree upon solutions.

Formal diplomatic efforts must be accompanied by "informal diplomacies" like dialogue among tribes and collaboration among religions, he added. Some countries in Africa have sustained peace due to their success in combining formal diplomacy with its informal counterparts.

Conflict prevention and peace require perseverance, long-term vision and commitment carried out through thousands of daily actions, the nuncio advised. Leaders and citizens must transcend selfish interests for the common good, reject a spirit of vengeance and take the path of healing and reconciliation.

Archbishop Auza called for more work in disarmament and in countering the arms trade in both its legal and illegal aspects.

"The proliferation of weapons simply aggravates situations of conflict and results in a huge human and material cost, which profoundly undermines the search for peace," he said.

Only the promotion of human rights and mutual solidarity can make peace building effective, the archbishop continued.

He cited Pope Francis' words to a favela in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil: "No amount of 'peace-building' will be able to last, nor will harmony and happiness be attained, in a society that ignores, pushes to the margins, or excludes a part of itself; it loses something essential. We must never, never allow the throwaway culture to enter our hearts! No one is disposable!"

In Archbishop Auza's view, the different results of peace building efforts in Africa suggests there is not a single successful model.

"Some countries have gained peace and stability and achieved sustained growth, while others continue to wallow in the mire of extreme poverty and unstable if not nonexistent institutions," he said.

The archbishop noted some important tactics in building peace: the fast-impact provision of food security and basic health care immediately after a conflict; medium-term initiatives like investment in job creation; and long-term programs like institution building.

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