Church Leaders Push to Expand Peacekeeping Role in Africa

OXFORD, England – Church representatives from Francophone Africa have called for closer regional cooperation in Catholic peacebuilding to offset growing economic and security challenges across the continent.

“The church frequently speaks out against government corruption and failure to resolve disputes – but it is simply ignored,” said Stephen Hilbert, adviser on Africa and global development for the US Bishops’ Conference.

“Meanwhile, the church is often not even invited to peace negotiations. Given that it is the most dynamic, most reliable, most balanced and most impartial entity in Africa, it is very frustrating,” he said on June 27, after having chaired a panel of peacemaking experts from Burundi, Niger and Congo in a four-day online conference.

He said the Catholic Church in much of Africa was uniquely placed to help bring about peace, but its proposals were also routinely ignored by international organizations and Western governments, including states. United.

“Many NGOs could achieve great things with the support of the church, but with their secular outlook they often don’t see it,” said Hilbert, who spent 22 years in Africa with Catholic Relief Services.

Hilbert told Catholic News Service that many Catholic and interfaith peacemaking initiatives tend to be “small-scale and geographically limited”, adding that governments in Nigeria and elsewhere have been accused of “reluctance and ‘inaction’ when it came to engaging with the church.

“The US government gives a lot to the church, but usually for concrete projects in areas such as health, water and sanitation. When it comes to anything political, it’s about avoiding accusations of bias,” he added.

The June 20-24 conference, “Catholic Peacebuilding in Times of Crisis,” brought together approximately 1,000 people online and 75 experts from 30 countries, including Archbishop Gabriele Caccia, Holy See representative to the United Nations; Bishop Luis José Rueda Aparicio, President of the Colombian Episcopal Conference; and Cardinal Charles Bo of Yangon, Myanmar, President of the Federation of Asian Bishops’ Conferences.

It was organized by the Catholic Peacebuilding Network, hosted at Notre Dame University, in collaboration with the Vatican Dicastery for Promoting Integral Human Development, Caritas Internationalis and two dozen Catholic universities and organizations. The conference came as issues of climate change, economic dislocation and armed rebellion looked set to be exacerbated by crippling food shortages due to war in Ukraine.

Jesuit Father Rigobert Minani, regional coordinator of the Congo Basin Forest Church Network, told the conference that the church’s frequent absence from regional peace conferences in Central Africa and the Sahel region prevented it to raise key issues such as human rights violations, protection of victims, justice and war reparations.

“In most conflicts, the actors are not just the armed groups, but the governments themselves,” said Minani, who also heads the social apostolate of the Jesuit Province of Central Africa.

“Difficulties arise where episcopal conferences do not have the same capacity to influence political and social leaders, thus creating imbalances in the national and regional engagement of the Church. He said that in Congo, Burundi and Rwanda, the church has been very active at the local level, but has had little impact on key state actors at the regional level.

Archbishop Djalwana Laurent Lompo of Niamey, Niger, was installed in June 2015, six months after most churches were destroyed in anti-Catholic riots. He said his own church was working through the Catholic charity Caritas “to make people actors of peace at all levels”.

However, he added that social and economic activity remained impossible in areas bordering Mali and Burkina Faso, where Islamist attacks had left 1.5 million people displaced with little access to aid.

“The violence here has complicated interreligious dialogue, but has also challenged us to be agents of peace, to harmonize efforts and to prepare hearts to avoid future conflicts,” the Archbishop said.

“We are all under attack now by the same forces, using the same strategy, and our political authorities have understood the importance of Islamic-Christian dialogue in the fight against this scourge, especially when ignorance of our own faith and practices nuns led to such violence. in the old days. But we still need to do more, to walk the talk in our search for peace.

Faith-based organizations have repeatedly called for greater civil society involvement in addressing issues such as poverty and inequality, resource exploitation, migration, debt and biodiversity loss.

Dominican Father Emmanuel Ntakarutimana, who heads the Global Forum of Civil Society Networks based in Burundi, said the Congolese bishops’ conference had worked to exchange experiences on human rights, political systems and inter-ethnic ties. with their counterparts in other African countries, while promoting the common restoration of peace. platforms.

However, he added that each country “understands its internal situation differently”, and he said shared projects often ended when conditions improved externally, leaving deeper issues unresolved.

“Some countries have lived through terrible events for decades, without having the capacity to take charge and formulate solutions,” the Dominican said during the conference.

“In their mission of human and spiritual accompaniment, churches and religious denominations, even if they lacked technical means, had to work for a healing of memories, while serving as a mediator against political manipulation and promoting education civic through advocacy and joint action.

Jerry B. Hatch