December 11, 2018
Human Rights and Conflict Transformation: The Role of Faith Inspired Organizations

Closing Remarks by H.E. Archbishop Bernardito Auza
Apostolic Nuncio, Permanent Observer of the Holy See

At the Round Table entitled
“Human Rights and Conflict Transformation:
The Role of Faith Inspired Organizations”

Church Center, New York, 11 December 2018


Your Excellencies,
President Franco Vaccari and Members of the Rondine Cittadella della Pace,
Leaders of Faith-Based NGOs,
Dear Ladies and Gentlemen,

It is a joy to be with you today as we have pondered together the role of faith-based organizations in defending and promoting human rights and in transforming conflicts.

Our meeting is taking place the day after we marked two significant events.

The first was the seventieth anniversary of the adoption of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, the Preamble of which said that the foundation of peace in the world is “recognition of the inherent dignity and of the equal and inalienable rights of all members of the human family.”

The second was the launch of the Leaders for Peace Appeal by Rondine Cittadella della Pace, which for twenty years has been training young people to overcome the temptation to classify and dehumanize others as enemies and recognize them as persons with innate dignity and inalienable human rights.

It was an honor for the Holy See to participate in the launch of the Leaders for Peace: Rondine Youth Appeal for Human Rights yesterday and it is a similar honor to take part in and give the concluding remarks today as we examine the ways that persons and groups inspired by faith do so much to promote peace and resolve conflict, especially through educating, like Rondine does, young people in human rights.

Please permit me to summarize what we have heard today, and add a little to it, by mentioning some of the many ways religious people and faith-based organizations are peacemakers and peace-builders through education and other important means.

Faith and faith-based groups inculcate a respect for the dignity of every person as loved by God, not matter how small, how severe one’s disability, how vulnerable, no matter the sex, race or nationality. The strength of religions and faith-based organizations does not lie in economic or political power, material resources or scientific expertise, but in their being a spiritual force and a moral compass, helping individuals and societies recognize and respect the inherent dignity of each and every human person.

Faith and faith-based groups foster a culture of encounter, solidarity, and brotherhood that helps people to transcend selfishness, lest brothers and sisters recapitulate the story of Cain and Abel. When Pope Francis addressed the General Assembly of the United Nations in 2015, he said that one of the root causes of so many difficulties in today’s world is a “growing and steady social fragmentation” that is endangering the “foundations of social life” and engendering “battles over conflicting interests.” That diagnosis implicitly contains a prescription: the constant, persevering work to help people encounter each other not at a superficial level but at the depth of their humanity.

It’s to foster genuine solidarity. It’s to help people to learn how to talk with each other, and then to each other, so that they might begin to understand each other, appreciate each other, and support each other. Faith and faith-based organizations are crucial in that effort.

Faith and faith-based groups open and run schools that form the head and the heart, giving people the ability critically to assess the claims and appeals of demagogues pushing for violence and war, and providing them the confidence to proclaim and live a different message.

Faith and faith-based groups preach and practice forgiveness and reconciliation, which when faithfully followed ends the downward spiral of vengeful retaliation. They train people to leave vengeance to the justice of God who will right wrongs, bring good out of evil, and have the last word.

Faith and faith-based groups form people to take up the “arms” of prayer rather than the weapons of violence.

Faith and faith-based groups preach as a moral minimum the Silver Rule, “Don’t treat others as you would not want them to treat you,” or the Golden Rule, “Treat others as you would have them treat you.” While this moral minimum is common to most major religions, some far surpass it. Judaism, Christianity and Islam, for example, all feature something more: they call us to love our neighbor because in faith we recognize God loves our neighbor. Christianity goes even beyond that, summoning us to love enemies, pray for persecutors, turn the other cheek, and love others as we believed Christ has loved us, which doesn’t mean “share his sentiments,” but share his willingness to die for the good of others. When faithfully followed, this moral formation changes people profoundly.

Faith and faith-based groups categorically condemn evil. Part of this condemnation must extend to messages of hate in the name of religion.

Faith and faith-based groups explicitly and intentionally form peacemakers. So many of the greatest agents of peace in the world are motivated precisely by faith. We can look at the work, for example of the Quakers, the Sant’Egidio Community, Pax Christi, the Rondine Cittadella della Pace and so many others present in this room. Christians believe, according to the words of Jesus, that the true children of God are not peacewishers but peacemakers (Mt 5:9), those who actively work toward communion and harmony.

Faith and faith-based groups help adherents to focus on their own sins and the roots of those sins — such as envy, greed, pride, anger — and to seek mercy from God, which is something that can help root out the interior cancers that metastasize to violence and conflict. When one observes the schoolyard skirmishes of kindergarteners or the way infant siblings fight with each other over toys, one grasps that the tendency to violence temporally precedes rather than follows religious faith and practice. A life of faith curbs rather than catalyzes this propensity to violence.

Faith and faith-based groups promote integral human development — personal, social, economic and environmental — since social, economic and environmental injustices often provide a lot of fuel for outbursts of violence.

Faith and faith-based groups think through with great seriousness the ethical criteria for self-defense — typically called a “just war doctrine” — as well as the “responsibility to protect,” the duty to intervene to defend those who cannot defend themselves from atrocities. These ethical criteria not only limit the downward spiral of violence but also get those in responsibility to act to ensure to defend the rights of victims and speed the process of peace.

Lastly, faith and faith-based groups engage in interreligious dialogue, showing the way toward a much greater understanding and giving a paradigm for all groups and peoples for the path toward reconciliation. Pope Francis has affirmed that “interreligious dialogue is a necessary condition for peace in the world” and that “a dialogue that seeks social peace and justice is in itself, beyond all merely practical considerations, an ethical commitment that brings about a new social situation” (Evangelii Gaudium 250).

When Pope Francis welcomed Rondine students to the Vatican on December 3rd, after praising the Cittadella della Pace for having “developed a method capable of transforming conflicts,” precisely by transforming people in conflict, and after having given his support, sympathy and blessing to the Leaders for Peace Appeal, he spent some time focusing not just on the many fruits of Rondine’s 20 years but on its faithbased roots.

“You have founded this work on two great spiritual roots,” he said:
Saint Francis of Assisi and Saint Romuald.

Saint Francis is one of the great saints of peace in religious history, who risked his life to reconcile warring family members, rival Italian city states, even Crusaders and Muslims. He who could recognize God’s presence even in animals could recognize his far greater presence in other human beings whom he believed were made in God’s image and likeness and to whom he knew the only worthy response was love. It’s not without reason that the religions of the world have regularly met in Assisi to pray for peace.

St. Romuald is less well-known but when he was young, he lived a pretty dissolute life until he watched his father kill a relative in a duel over property. To evade the escalating cycle of violence that he knew would ensue, he fled to a monastery. It was there that he decided to engage in another type of war, namely a battle of prayer and asceticism to align himself with the virtues and person of Jesus, whom he loved as the Prince of Peace. When he was accused of a serious crime he hadn’t committed, rather than retaliating, he used it as reparation to expiate his sins and those of his father and as a prayer against violence in the world. His life, like Francis’, shows us that conversion is possible.

That’s the type of conversion from violence that happens in the Citadel of Peace in the heart of Tuscany that they both called home.

That’s the type of conversion toward peace that our day so much needs.

That’s the type of conversion that so many faith-inspired groups, educating for peace based on the recognition of the inherent dignity and equal and inalienable rights of all members of the human family, help to bring to the world.

Thank you very much.