(Vatican Radio) Moral leadership and the work of faith-based organizations in bringing warring parties to the negotiating table are more and more of value in a world in which conflict continues to sow misery and injustice.
More specifically, the moral leadership of Pope Francis and the engagement of organizations like the Saint Egidio Community, which is currently overseeing peace agreements between the Governments and warring factions in Central African Republic, act as catalysts and provide momentum to much needed peacemaking diplomacy.
This is the opinion of Ambassador Alexander Laskaris, the Deputy to the Commander for Civil-Military Engagement of the United States Africa Command. A man with a life-time experience working in Africa, who was recently in Rome to tie up with the US Embassy to the Holy See and with Saint Egidio.
Ambassador Laskaris spoke to Linda Bordoni of how his personal experience in Africa impacts his work today and about how he views the action of the Catholic Church in fostering dialogue and reconciliation.
“As the Africa Command we serve the broader diplomatic engagement strategy of the US Government, and as the US Government, certainly in Africa we are in constant need to be in partnership with the moral leadership of African partner nations; in a whole number of nations undergoing tragic crises one of the main sources of moral leadership is the Catholic Church, the Holy See, the Vatican Foreign Ministry and the religious orders who operate in all of these countries” Ambassador Laskaris says.
He points out that right now, missionaries and other religious are often – tragically – the last witnesses we have in some of these crisis areas, but they also possibly represent the best convening authority to bring competing factions to the table and to break the monopoly of armed men in peace processes.
“To make peace you obviously have to talk to the people with the guns, but to make durable peace they cannot have a monopoly” he says.
The Church – Laskaris continues – is our best bet for convening the parties and locking them into a framework for peace that the rest of us – the US government through its broad support and the Africa Command through the military side – support in order to give peace talks a framework and a structure that includes both the armed and the unarmed parties.
Laskaris reveals he is in Rome also to meet with representatives of the Saint Egidio Community that, he says, leads the way in peacemaking.
He also speaks of the impact Pope Francis’ voice – and actions – have had not only in bringing about the conditions to bring the different parties to the negotiating table, but also in raising awareness and acting as a catalyst for concrete action.
“Specifically, in the Central African Republic, the Pope walked from the Catholic Cathedral of Bangui to the Mosque in the PK5 – the Muslim neighborhood – which was crossing a literal battle line but also crossing a metaphorical battle line. It was an act of personal courage, of physical courage but, more important, of moral courage” he says.
The Ambassador also reflects on his experience in South Africa during the very years before and during transition to democracy and on how often the power of moral leadership is an “unappreciated factor in the destiny of nations.”
And specifically, he says that he thinks Pope Francis’ visit to the CAR catalyzed a successful elections process.
Obviously, Laskaris says, the Pope represents that moral authority, but on the ground, every day, it is the leaders of the different faiths and of faith-based organizations that are in the fore and that can have a much needed positive impact in situations of conflict.
Speaking of peace negotiations he says it is important to broaden the participation of people sitting at the table: “you need civil society actors, you need faith based communities, and you need women, particularly!”
“The durability of a peace process is directly proportionate to the inclusivity of the actors – which is another way of saying that if you only have the armed actors around the table it’s a resource deal between criminal élites ” he says.
And he points to the tragic example of South Sudan where, he says, the only people empowered to make peace are the ones empowered to make war.
The presence of women he says is also a guarantee of a “longer shelf-life” for the peace process for various reasons including the fact that the way to reach vulnerable people and communities with humanitarian aid is through women.
Ambassador Laskaris, who has recently spent three and a half years as in office in the West African nation of Guinea, tells of the belief that stems from the Manlike cosmology that the source of all conflict is the inevitable competition of brothers of the same father:
“While the equal and opposite counter veiling of the principle of the universe, called Madenia, is the inevitable reconciliation of sons of the same mother.”
So, linking this story into the culture, Laksris says Guineans wisely believe that the source of all reconciliation and peace is motherhood.
“The reason I am here is to acknowledge the importance of the moral leadership of religious communities – in this case the Catholic Church and its presence throughout these countries – and to send the message that we are looking for your leadership and looking to fall in behind that leadership” he says.
Laskaris also says that nobody in positions of leadership in the US Military is under any illusion that these crises can be solved through the application of force.
He also goes on to foresee how the new political administration in the US will most probably stay true to a decade-long tradition that sees “more constancy in the US/Africa policy than changes”.
The Ambassador concludes reflecting on how his personal experience as a young school teacher in South Africa prior to when democratic change made the nation a free country imbues his work at all time, grounding him in the memory of what the real Africa is: “I would not want to do what I do now without having had that experience, remembering always where I started and where my father started as a war displaced refugee” always taking into account that some things that governors see as “vexing” political issues like the migration crisis, is actually a profoundly significant human issue “so it is extremely important to me to be able to maintain the connection of being a poor school teacher in a South African township in 1989.”