Education and a culture of peace

This subject, education and a culture of peace is vital and remains topical in the Gospel we are called to proclaim in and out of season. It is part of the being of the Church and its action in the world as a gift of Christ Jesus. It is her way of living and radiating peace that she becomes an educator of peace, inculcated in the values of the cultures she is sent to. That’s why we Missionaries of Africa feel so comfortable when we learn local languages, the doors through which we enter local cultures to announce the Good News and the Peace of the Risen Christ!

We need to think back to how often we mention the word “peace” during our liturgical celebrations: “Peace be with you” or the following prayer: “Lord Jesus Christ, you said to your apostles: ‘I leave you Peace, my Peace I give you’; look not on our sins but on the faith of your Church; Your will may be done, grant her peace and unity according to your will, who live and reign forever and ever”. Then, we give ourselves the peace of Christ. We live and give what we have received from Christ. We continue to live it in his light with our mother, the Church.

The following summarises my experience during the post-election inter-ethnic conflicts in Kenya in 2008-2013. At the time, I was a formator in our formation house in Nairobi/Balozi. With the Association of Psychologists of Kenya, of which I am a member, we visited a lot of IDP camps to provide psychological support and material assistance. We received a great deal of support from the local Church.

The Christian religion, an agent of peace on a global scale

On a global scale, religious actors play an important role in peace education, bringing people together to manage conflicts. They are in the right position to preach and teach, mainly by raising awareness of religious beliefs and encouraging tolerance within communities. Their role is thus to foster the development of peace.

Two essential elements of religious life are paramount to peacemaking: empathy and compassion. Mercy draws from these attributes the strength for effective peacemaking.

There is a link between our Christian faith and peace. Certain religious characteristics are associated with peace, for example, when a country has a dominant religious group. Individualised education programmes achieve higher levels of peace in countries without dominant religious groups and with fewer government restrictions on religion.

Christian religion also leads to development. Religion affects economic decision-making by establishing social norms and shaping individual personalities. Companies in highly religious communities adhere to ethical standards conducive to a stable economy.

Christian religion is, therefore, an essential key to the development of society. Religion fulfils several functions for society. These include (a) giving meaning and purpose to life, (b) strengthening social unity and stability, (c) acting as an agent of social control over behaviour, (d) promoting physical and psychological well-being, and (e) motivating people to work for positive social change. Ecumenical, interfaith and intercultural dialogue can make an enormous contribution to this.

Consider the contributions of the Christian religion to society: it reinforces individuals, families, communities and society as a whole. It has a significant impact on educational and professional achievement. It reduces the incidence of major social problems, such as out-of-wedlock births, drug and alcohol abuse, crime and delinquency.

Therefore, the Church’s role in maintaining societal peace and security is essential. It has always taught its members the action of non-reprisal, as Jesus himself taught; this helps to absorb violence rather than leading to its escalation. As a result, every cycle of violence that provokes revenge, which in turn provokes more violence, is broken by the simple act of tolerance, dialogue and non-retaliation.

Christians are, therefore, those who follow and put into practice the teachings of Christ in all areas of their lives. One of the summits of Christianity, or Christian virtue, is peace. The Bible urges Christians to embrace and live in peace with their neighbours.

Reconciliation in Kenya during the post-election period 2008-2013

The Church’s peace-building, reconciliation and restoration process was launched by forming the Kenya Bishops’ Conference Commission because it could not be left alone in the hands of politicians. The Church was called to a ministry of reconciliation and exercised a spiritual mandate following the electoral crisis. The Church closely monitored the process to ensure that it genuinely aimed at achieving national healing, not simply a whitewash to sweep past injustices under the carpet for political expediency. The Church used the pulpit to teach and preach genuine forgiveness and reconciliation and to encourage people to participate in a just and comprehensive way of dealing with the past so that the nation could truly be healed of its many wounds. The Church had an ongoing responsibility to heal the trauma of past violence between its members.

The social realities within societies were taken seriously. Conflicts must be seen as events not isolated in their social context. The peacemaking techniques used by the Church in the post-election period from 2008 to 2013 focused on the structural aspects of restoring or building relationships between former rivals.

This approach assumes that equal interaction between the parties and economic and political restructuring leads to new bonds of cooperation that stabilise peaceful relations. The Church has focused on structural elements such as exchanging representatives in various political, economic and cultural spheres. Maintaining formal and regular communication channels and an essential part of the structural actions promoted by the Church consisted of treating the other party with respect, justice, equality and sensitivity to its needs and objectives.

By: François-Xavier Bigeziki, M.Afr.

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