When prayer helps end conflicts

Religious leaders have achieved a truce between rebel groups in the Central African Republic through a ‘spiritually inspired’ method.

Reuters
A Franciscan monk stands near United Nations peacekeeping soldiers and an armored personnel carrier near the village of Ndim, Central African Republic, April 26.

One of Africa’s worst conflicts may have finally ended through a rare type of diplomacy. On June 19, more than a dozen armed groups in the Central African Republic signed a peace accord. Yet they did not do so through an official negotiator. Rather a religious group in Italy used what it calls a “spiritually inspired” method – building empathy and compassion – to help forge a truce.

This diplomatic feat was achieved by the Community of Sant’Egidio, a Roman Catholic lay group that works quietly and discreetly around the world to end conflicts. It puts prayer at the heart of its mediation. Its efforts have been so successful that the United Nations formally signed an agreement on June 9 to cooperate with Sant’Egidio in ending other conflicts. Its president, Marco Impagliazzo, says the group’s success lies in being seen as a neutral party that relies on patience and shared values to create trust between foes.

A Dutch scholar, Gerrie ter Haar, explains such faith-based diplomacy: “Bringing the spiritual dimension into the peacemaking process can create access to the more deep-seated, affective base of the parties’ behavior, enabling them to examine critically their own attitudes and actions.”

The conflict in the Central African Republic erupted in 2013 when the mainly Muslim Seleka rebels took power, triggering violent reprisals by militia groups that are nominally Christian. As many as 6,000 people have died. From the start, however, local religious leaders – Islamic, Catholic, and Protestant – played a key part in protecting civilians and initiating talks. They described their “weapons” as “prayer and dialogue.”

As fears of genocide grew, however, the UN, France, and the African Union sent in troops to quell the fighting. This allowed the election of a new president last year, although his influence barely extends beyond the capital. When fighting erupted again in May and more than 100,000 people had to flee, Sant’Egidio was able to bring 13 rebel groups to Rome for talks and reach a deal.

Many details of the pact still need to be implemented. And victims of the violence await the establishment of a commission to document the atrocities and achieve a level of justice and social reconciliation.

But the country, which is one of the poorest in Africa, is now rebuilding. And that is due in part to a type of conflict resolution that uses spiritual qualities to transcend divisions and end wars.

You've read  of  free articles. Subscribe to continue.

Dear Reader,

About a year ago, I happened upon this statement about the Monitor in the Harvard Business Review – under the charming heading of “do things that don’t interest you”:

“Many things that end up” being meaningful, writes social scientist Joseph Grenny, “have come from conference workshops, articles, or online videos that began as a chore and ended with an insight. My work in Kenya, for example, was heavily influenced by a Christian Science Monitor article I had forced myself to read 10 years earlier. Sometimes, we call things ‘boring’ simply because they lie outside the box we are currently in.”

If you were to come up with a punchline to a joke about the Monitor, that would probably be it. We’re seen as being global, fair, insightful, and perhaps a bit too earnest. We’re the bran muffin of journalism.

But you know what? We change lives. And I’m going to argue that we change lives precisely because we force open that too-small box that most human beings think they live in.

The Monitor is a peculiar little publication that’s hard for the world to figure out. We’re run by a church, but we’re not only for church members and we’re not about converting people. We’re known as being fair even as the world becomes as polarized as at any time since the newspaper’s founding in 1908.

We have a mission beyond circulation, we want to bridge divides. We’re about kicking down the door of thought everywhere and saying, “You are bigger and more capable than you realize. And we can prove it.”

If you’re looking for bran muffin journalism, you can subscribe to the Monitor for $15. You’ll get the Monitor Weekly magazine, the Monitor Daily email, and unlimited access to CSMonitor.com.

QR Code to When prayer helps end conflicts
Read this article in
https://www.csmonitor.com/Commentary/the-monitors-view/2017/0620/When-prayer-helps-end-conflicts
QR Code to Subscription page
Start your subscription today
https://www.csmonitor.com/subscribe