This piece was written in March, 2013, while the author was completing a Master of Arts degree in Peace Studies at the Joan B. Kroc Institute for International Peace Studies at the University of Notre Dame.
Editor's note: David holds a Master of Divinity degree from Notre Dame and has recently served as the Associate Director of Religious Education in the Lay Development Division of the Catholic Archdiocese of Mobile, Alabama. For this reason, the article is written with a strongly Catholic lens, and uses some language that may not be familiar to non-Catholics. However, the notion that the Catholic Church has the potential to play a major peacebuilding role in areas in which it is predominant is an important one, and the notion that religious peacebuilding can and should be pursued by lay people is a message that relates not just to Catholicism, but to other religions as well. For that reason, we think this article is likely to be of interest to Catholics and non-Catholics alike.
To understand the growing role of the Catholic Church in promoting peace, we must begin by defining strategic peacebuilding. Strategic Peacebuilding (SPB) is a comprehensive approach to conflict transformation that analyzes and interfaces with the peace process before, during and after violence. "It seeks to prevent, engage, reduce, transform and help communities move beyond violence in all forms, including structural." SPB examines various levels of interaction — horizontal and vertical — between the multiple actors and factors in a conflict situation. Comprehensive analysis is used to provide a framework for systemic social change that both accounts for the violence and ultimately leads to a sustainable peace. According to John Paul Lederach, the Roman Catholic Church is well placed to make a significant contribution at all levels of society to SPB — before, during and after the violence.
Already, the Catholic Church has carved out a niche in the world of SPB through its international development agencies (e.g., Catholic Relief Services), its Track Two diplomacy successes (e.g., the San Egidio community) and the engagement of its hierarchical leaders (bishops and priests) in conflict zones around the world. Some of the peacebuilding roles the Church has played include: facilitating peace agreements, providing safe spaces for conversation between contending parties, outreach to rebel groups and direct work with the victims of war. Still, the potential positive impact of the Catholic Church in SPB remains largely untapped because the Church leadership has not articulated a theological framework for the role of the Catholic laity as peacemakers. The Catholic laity should operate as agents of peace within their families and in their local parishes. However, they must be empowered to become Catholic peacebuilders in the larger society through their professional and civic engagements.
A Ubiquitous Presence
The Roman Catholic Church includes over 1.2 billion members worldwide. Although Catholic membership is concentrated mostly in the Americas (524 million) and Europe (286 million), adherents can be found in Africa (135 million), Asia (120 million), Oceania (8 million) and the Middle East (3 million). In some war-torn Catholic countries, such as Colombia and the Philippines, Catholicism pervades every segment of society: political leaders, the intelligentsia, the judicial sector, the security forces, the military, journalists, rebel soldiers and victims of the conflict. From the grassroots of society, through middle management levels and onto the political, cultural and economic elites, the Church enjoys a "ubiquitous presence" and unprecedented relational access to all societal segments in many traditionally Catholic countries around the world.
Religion and Violence
While many see religion as a source of conflict and division, the truth is that religion plays a broad range of roles in matters of war and peace. All religions, particularly ones that enjoy a cultural dominance, are capable of marshalling substantial resources for peace by employing their symbols and rituals, invoking their sacred texts and using their institutions to promote a vision for peace. It must be acknowledged though, that religions can, and often are, co-opted into the service of violence. The challenge at hand is to engage the theological, institutional and cultural power of the Catholic Church to provide a compelling peace narrative to stand against violent aggression. More importantly, the massive resources of the Church must be employed to produce lay agents of peace through lifelong education and formation in peacemaking. In other words, the task is to turn the Catholic Church into a "school of peacemaking" for its 1.2 billion members.
This school would make explicit the many pieces of the tradition and the teachings of the Church that relate to peacebuilding. It would include conflict resolution training for children, teens and adults throughout the parish community. All of the education, formation and sacramental initiation efforts would intentionally make the connections to peacemaking whenever appropriate, pointing out the implications for the laity as to how they could embody these teachings in the world today. Finally, special advanced training would be included in seminary training, through diocesan workshops and on the parish level for pastoral leaders — both ordained and lay. In other words, peacebuilding would become constitutive of every aspect of the ministries of teaching and preaching the gospel as well as all efforts in discipling people at the parish level.
Does SPB Fit Into The Mission of the Church?
The central mission and duty of the Church is to "proclaim the Good News of the gospel of Jesus Christ and make disciples of all nations" (Matthew 28:19-20). How does this fit with strategic peacebuilding? Where can the Catholic Church naturally interface with the imperatives and trajectories of SPB without compromising its own essential identity as a spiritual communion?
The first area of compatibility is in the pre-conflict stage of SPB. Before the outbreak of violence, SPB works to insure that all the structures, systems, institutions and elements of culture work to provide constructive, nonviolent pathways for resolving conflicts and addressing societal injustices. The Church locates itself very naturally in this sector, with its educational institutions, its social justice campaigns and its parish- based moral formation programs that equip the laity to see the world through the perspective of "gospel thinking".
Second, in the midst of the violence, SPB engages the contending actors through outreach, negotiations, mediations and acknowledgement of grievances. This traditional segment of conflict resolution requires the intentional building and transforming of relationships so that after the official peace accords are signed, people can move forward to create a sustainable peace. Some members of the Catholic hierarchy in Latin America, Africa and Asia have been pulled into the role of conflict mediation because other local institutions have collapsed and key players in the war are Catholics. Bishops and priests are respected and trusted by actors and carry a moral authority. Oftentimes, these Catholic clerics have expressed a sense of inadequacy in these situations, having never being trained in peace work. However, out of a sense of pastoral obligation to care for their flock — which often includes both the perpetrators and the victims of the violence — some bishops and priests step into the fray, promoting the peace and justice of Christ found in the scriptures and Catholic teachings.
Finally, SPB addresses the devastation left in the wake of the conflict. Through the practices of human rights advocacy, restorative justice, reconciliation and community healing, SPB recognizes that peace agreements are just the first step in creating a sustainable peace. The wounds of political violence must be addressed. Likewise, just structures must be put in place to insure that the problems that caused the war do not go unaddressed. This may require prosecuting those who have violated the human rights of others. It could also include reforming the judicial and security sectors, a thorough overhaul of the political structures and an effort to reintegrate those who either fought in the war or lost their property through involuntary displacement. Here again, the Church provides some natural points of convergence through its Catholic Social Doctrine, its teaching on the deleterious effects of sin as well as its sacramental ministries of reconciliation, communion, healing.
Traditional Catholic teaching acknowledges the presence and power of sin, evil and violence within humanity (i.e. Adam and Eve's fall in the Garden of Eden, the murder of Abel by his brother Cain, the crucifixion of Jesus, the persecution of the early Church, and the doctrine of original sin). The practice of repentance through the sacrament of reconciliation (confession) provides a spiritual source of restorative justice and healing for broken communities. Likewise, the Eucharist presents a "fundamental understanding of encounter and reconciliation with God and the community, represented in the form of the body, the community gathered."
In these ways, the Catholic Church is a logical civil society partner in SPB efforts. The Church provides a theological narrative that can substantially influence how people frame the conflict and the efforts to build peace. Its institutional reach cuts both horizontally and vertically to all sectors of societies. And the Church has access to diverse portions of the population in ways that academics, politicians or peacebuilders do not normally have. Research has shown that the involvement of civil society in peace efforts have improved the likelihood of success. The Church can certainly serve in this role going forward. In order to do this though, the leadership will have to intentionally seek ways to provide the laity with a theological justification, a formal commissioning and systematic formation in its mission of peacebuilding.
Grassroots Peacemaking — The Laity of the Catholic Church
Fr. Kenneth Himes from Boston College describes the Catholic notion of peace on three levels: the peace that will come when Jesus returns in the Second Coming; the inner peace that results from spiritual communion with God; and the political peace that is intrinsic to Christ's vision of the Kingdom of God, a vision that points to the original intention of God as illustrated in the Creation Story of the Garden of Eden. The Catholic hierarchy teaches and preaches about all three levels. Through the social justice ministries of the Church, clergy and religious also work to build the Kingdom of God. But the laity are specifically sent out by the Church to bring the work of Christ to the secular world in their professional and personal lives, directly impacting political peace.
However, despite this natural affiliation of the laity with the political peace of the Kingdom of God, the hierarchy and the clergy of the Catholic Church have been the segments of the Catholic community most prominently involved in SPB. Their positions on the top levels and middle out portions of society make them logical choices. The respect they are given, and their symbolic authority, work in their favor. But strategic peacebuilding is not their job. They were called, educated, spiritually formed and commissioned to serve the world primarily inside the Church. The Church officially sees the hierarchy and the clergy as fundamentally responsible for intra-ecclesial matters while the proper role of the laity is "the renewal of the whole temporal order." It is the lay people who are formally tasked with the role of bringing the Kingdom of God to the world outside the doors of the Church. They are the ones who function in government, business, the court system, family life, civil society and the military. Members of the hierarchy who do step into the world of politics are often viewed with suspicion and at times even called to account by Rome. Therefore, to lean exclusively on the bishops and the priests is to ignore the enormous potential of activating the laity to live out their evangelical commission to bring the fruits of the gospel to all nations.
It is also noteworthy that Catholic Social Teaching, which deals with political and social issues, is often described as the Church's best kept secret. This comes as no surprise when the Church is overly dependent on the prerogatives of its clerical leadership, who are not steeped in the world of politics and social justice. Lay initiatives are needed to activate this rich body of teaching in ways that begin to empower those in the pews to embody the principles of peacemaking in the places lay people uniquely find themselves.
What lay people lack and what they are looking for from the official leadership of the Church is a mandate to operate as Catholic peacemakers in their families, in their communities and in the world. They are waiting for official permission and a systematic theological formation that they can use to marshal their secular expertise for the cause of peacebuilding.
Catholic Strategic Peacebuilding — A Work of the Whole Church
The laity bring specific capacities to the task of SPB. I offer a few specifics for consideration:
- The laity live locally and make up the civil society that is most directly impacted by the war. "While negotiators, government officials, militaries, and rebel groups come and go, civil society remains. Peace ultimately belongs to the people who survive the conflict; therefore, there is a compelling need to understand how and when (lay Catholics in) civil society can play an effective role in the peace process."
- Lay people are not limited by the same constraints as the clergy. Their engagement will not diminish the parish collections or alienate certain influential parishioners. They are not expected to represent all the people in the community, an expectation that renders most preachers mute on the political implications of the gospel lest someone be offended. The hierarchy in Ireland succumbed to this pressure early in the conflicts of Northern Ireland, remaining silent and aloof out of fear of taking sides.
- All Catholics are baptized into Christ and his ministries of "priest, prophet and king". The prophetic function of the clergy is often inhibited by the need to not get ahead of the local Church culture on social issues. Lay people suffer no such limitations. Innovation and creativity are available to lay members in a way that eludes those operating within the institutional structures of the Church. St. Francis (a layman) and Dorothy Day are two excellent examples. Their radical call to peace challenged the Church in ways that the institution is still struggling to catch up with.
- There are already experts among the Catholic laity in economics, politics, law, mediation, community organizing and every other segment of society that will be needed for strategic peacebuilding work.
But can the Catholic Church become such a school of peacebuilding? Are there pieces of the tradition and the institutional structure that lend themselves to this type of formation? Again, a few examples can serve to start the conversation:
- Catholic Social Doctrine, rooted in scripture and the official teaching of the Church, is a 100-year-old body of literature that reflects theologically on precisely the questions of justice, peace, community, and the dignity of the human person. It is a rich resource for Catholics, Christians and all people of good will. Catholics who are immersed in this teaching through parish-based programs such as JustFaith showed an 89% to 97% increase in social action after completing their formation.
- At Mass, Catholics pray for peace, exchange the sign of peace, and are sent out to "go in peace" or "go in peace, glorifying the Lord by your life." They sing hymns about peace including St. Francis' prayer "Make Me a Channel of Your Peace". The intercessions also often include prayers for peace and for the soldiers among the community.
- The rich Catholic tradition of prayer, contemplation, meditation and silence lends itself to the mindful, attentive work of peacebuilding. Silence is required for deep listening. Peace is the fruit of this type of intentional presence; a presence that offers both support and an ability to discern the deep needs that sometimes lie beyond the words being expressed.
- The Catholic Church maintains a core set of beliefs based on the gospel and tradition that are shared by most other Christian denominations and other religions. "Among these beliefs are a conviction of the equality and dignity of all human beings; upholding the sacredness of the individual person and his/her conscience; defending the value of the human community; arguing the might is not right, and that human power is neither self-sufficient nor absolute; espousing compassion, unselfishness; arguing that the force of inner truthfulness and the spirit are more powerful than hate, enmity and self interest and standing with the poor and the oppressed against the rich and the oppressors."
- Catholic parishes and schools already provide education and moral formation for young Catholics from preschool through Ph.D. programs (see the Kroc Institute for International Peace Studies at the University of Notre Dame). Already substantial efforts exist to provide peacebuilding formation for families, schools and religious education programs.
- Catholic commentators, professors and public intellectuals often already contribute at the highest levels of policy making.
Catholicism is uniquely situated to make a significant contribution to the work of SPB. It has already become a reluctant participant on the level of its bishops and priests. However, if the Church develops a thick theological understanding of the role of the laity in peace work and starts to understand its parish communities as schools for peacebuilding, it can operate on the vanguard of educating and forming members of civil society to bring the rich insights of the Catholic social tradition to peace work. "Religious congregations have been shown to be a hub for the formation of political views." With its "ubiquitous presence", the Catholic Church has the unique opportunity to contribute to the work of bringing peace to the world, which seems consistent with the work of its primary source of inspiration, Jesus Christ, who is often given the title of "Prince of Peace".
Education for Peace and Justice 1985. St. Louis, Mo. 4144 Lindell Blvd. #400, St. Louis 63108: Institute for Peace and Justice.
The Harvest of Justice is Sown in Peace : A Reflection of the National Conference of Bishops on the Tenth Anniversary of the Challenge of Peace 1994. Washington, D.C.: United States Catholic Conference.
Ahu Sandal, Nukhet. "Religious Actors as Epistemic Communities in Conflict Transformation: The Cases of South Africa and Northern Ireland." Review of International Studies; Rev.Int.Stud. 37 (3): 929-949.
Appleby, R. S. 2000. The Ambivalence of the Sacred: Religion, Violence, and Reconciliation Lanham, MD: Rowman & Littlefield Publishers.
Chacko, Betsie. 2008. "The Ripe Moment for Civil Society." International Negotiation 13 (1): 93-109.
Coughlan, Peter. 1989. The Hour of the Laity: Their Expanding Role: Exploring "Christifideles Laici" the Pope's Key Document on the Laity Newton, NSW, Australia; Philadelphia, PA, USA : E.J. Dwyer.
Dear, John. 1994. The God of Peace: Toward a Theology of Nonviolence Maryknoll, N.Y.: Orbis Books.
John Paul II. 1989. Post-Synodal Apostolic Exhortation Christifideles Laici of His Holiness John Paul II on the Vocation and the Mission of the Lay Faithful in the Church and in the World, Boston: Daughters of St. Paul.
Kownacki, Mary Lou, Kenneth Hammann, and Jo Clarke. 1985. Peacemaking, Day by Day Erie, Penn.: Benet Press.
Lederach, John Paul. 1997. Building Peace: Sustainable Reconciliation in Divided Societies Washington, D.C.: United States Institute of Peace Press.
Ibid. 2003. The Little Book of Conflict Transformation Intercourse, PA: Good Books.
Ibid. 2005. The Moral Imagination: the Art and Soul of Building Peace New York: Oxford University Press.
McDermott, Patrick P. 1974. Christian Tradition and Peacemaking Today Washington, D.C.: U.S. Catholic Conference, Division of World Justice and Peace.
McGinnis, James. 2006. A Resource Guide for Teachers & Youth Ministers: Activities for Catholic Social Teaching Notre Dame, Ind.: Ave Maria Press.
McGinnis, James B. and Kathleen McGinnis. 1990. Parenting for Peace and Justice: Ten Years Later Maryknoll, N.Y.: Orbis Books.
McGinnis, James and Kathleen McGinnis. "Peacemaking in the Family." Momentum 23 (4): 66-68.
McNeal, Patricia F. 1992. Harder than War: Catholic Peacemaking in Twentieth-Century America New Brunswick, NJ: Rutgers University Press.
Philpott, Daniel. 2012. Just and Unjust Peace Oxford University Press.
Powers, Gerard F., Drew Christiansen, and Robert T. Hennemeyer. 1994.Peacemaking: Moral and Policy Challenges for a New World Washington, D.C.: United States Catholic Conference.
Schirch, Lisa. 2004.The Little Book of Strategic Peacebuilding Intercourse, PA: Good Books.
Schreiter, Robert J., R. S. Appleby, and Gerard F. Powers. 2010. Peacebuilding: Catholic Theology, Ethics, and Praxis Maryknoll, N.Y.: Orbis Books.
Smock, David R. 1998. Private Peacemaking: USIP-Assisted Peacemaking Projects of Nonprofit Organizations Washington, DC 1550 M St., NW, Washington 20005: U.S. Institute of Peace.
 Schirch, Lisa. 2004. The Little Book of Strategic Peacebuilding Intercourse, PA: Good Books. p. 9.
 Lederach, John Paul, "The Long Journey Back to Humanity: Catholic Peacebuilding with Armed Actors", pp. 50-51, found in Schreiter, Robert J., R. S. Appleby, and Gerard F. Powers. 2010. Peacebuilding: Catholic Theology, Ethics, and Praxis Maryknoll, N.Y.: Orbis Books.
 For examples of CRS's involvement in strategic peacebuilding, see: "Catholic Relief Services: Catholic Peacebuilding in Practice", pp. 125-154, found in Schreiter, Robert J., R. S. Appleby, and Gerard F. Powers. 2010. Peacebuilding: Catholic Theology, Ethics, and Praxis Maryknoll, N.Y.: Orbis Books., Extractives and Equity, edited by Tom Bamat, Aaron Chassy and Rees Warne, Catholic Relief Services, Baltimore, Md, p. 1-122. 2011. and Gary, Ian and Lynn, Terry. Bottom of the Barrel: Africa's Oil Boom and the Poor. Catholic Relief Services, Baltimore, Md, p. 1-110. 2003.
 Track Two Diplomacy is a term used to describe diplomatic peace mediation efforts that are done by non-governmental actors. Traditional diplomacy done by heads of state or foreign diplomats has been historically called Track One Diplomacy.
 Smock, David R. 1998. Private Peacemaking: USIP-Assisted Peacemaking Projects of Nonprofit Organizations Washington, DC 1550 M St., NW, Washington 20005: U.S. Institute of Peace.
 Lederach, "The Long Journey Back to Humanity", pp. 23-55.
 Schreiter, Robert J., R. S. Appleby, and Gerard F. Powers. 2010. Peacebuilding: Catholic Theology, Ethics, and Praxis Maryknoll, N.Y.: Orbis Books.
 In the Catholic community, the laity are considered all the baptized members of the community who have not been ordained. This includes religious brothers and sisters, monks and nuns such as the Franciscans, Jesuits, Sisters of Mercy or Poor Clares. However, most Catholics do not include the religious who have taken solemn vows to be on the same level as the regular lay people. For the purposes of this article, the term "laity" refers only to those who are not ordained or living a vowed religious life.
 See the forward thinking work of James B. and Kathleen McGinnis. 1990. Parenting for Peace and Justice: Ten Years Later Maryknoll, N.Y.: Orbis Books, "Peacemaking in the Family." Momentum 23 (4): pp. 66-68.
 A description for the Catholic Church used by Lederach, "The Long Journey Back to Humanity", p. 50.
 Lederach, "The Long Journey Back to Humanity", pp. 50-51.
 See the seminal work of Scott Appleby on this topic in: Appleby, R. S. 2000. The Ambivalence of the Sacred: Religion, Violence, and Reconciliation Lanham, MD: Rowman & Littlefield Publishers.
 Lecture by John Ashworth, Kroc-Catholic Relief Services Fellow from South Sudan presented at the Africa Faith and Justice Network 30th Anniversary Conference — Justice for Africa: Justice for the World at the University of Notre Dame, March 1-3, 2013. Also see Lederach, "The Long Journey Back to Humanity".
 Lederach, "The Long Journey Back to Humanity", pp. 32-43.
 For a treatment of the wounds of political injustice and the practices available for addressing them, see Philpott, Daniel. 2012. Just and Unjust Peace Oxford University Press.
 According to the US Bishops (www.usccb.org), Catholic Social Teaching includes 7 basic themes: The Life and Dignity of the Human Person; the Call to Family, Community and Participation; Rights and Responsibilities; The Dignity of Work and the Rights of Workers; Solidarity; The Option for the Poor, and Care for God's Creation. For a fuller treatment of the scope of Catholic Social Teaching including major documents, important quotes and the theme of "peacemaking", see www.osjspm.org/CatholicSocialTeachin g. To search the Catechism of the Catholic Church for Catholic Social teachings, see http://scborromeo.org/ccc.htm.
 Lederach, "The Long Journey Back to Humanity", p. 51.
 Lederach, John Paul. 1997. Building Peace: Sustainable Reconciliation in Divided Societies Washington, D.C. : United States Institute of Peace Press, p 50.
 Lederach, John Paul. 2005. The Moral Imagination: the Art and Soul of Building Peace New York: Oxford University Press, p. 79.
 Chacko, Betsie. 2008. "The Ripe Moment for Civil Society." International Negotiation 13 (1), p. 96.
 Himes, Kenneth Fr., "Peacebuilding and Catholic Social Teaching", pp. 268-269, found in Schreiter, Robert J., R. S. Appleby, and Gerard F. Powers. 2010. Peacebuilding: Catholic Theology, Ethics, and Praxis Maryknoll, N.Y.: Orbis Books.
 For a clear articulation of the distinction in the Church's official understanding of the difference between the role of the hierarchy in the ecclesial realm and the primary role of the laity in the world, see the writings of Pope John Paul II, especially paragraph #15 of John Paul II. 1989. Post-Synodal Apostolic Exhortation Christifideles Laici of His Holiness John Paul II on the Vocation and the Mission of the Lay Faithful in the Church and in the World, Boston: Daughters of St. Paul. See also Coughlan, Peter. 1989. The Hour of the Laity: Their Expanding Role: Exploring "Christifideles Laici" the Pope's Key Document on the Laity Newton, NSW, Australia; Philadelphia, PA, USA : E.J. Dwyer.
 Chacko, Betsie. 2008. "The Ripe Moment for Civil Society." International Negotiation 13 (1), p. 93.
 Ahu Sandal, Nukhet. "Religious Actors as Epistemic Communities in Conflict Transformation: The Cases of South Africa and Northern Ireland." Review of International Studies; Rev.Int.Stud. 37 (3): pp. 943-948.
 Based on research data provided in an interview with Jack Jezreel, founder, president and outgoing executive director of JustFaith Ministries. www.justfaith.org The impact of JustFaith has been so dramatic on local parish lay people that Catholic Charities, Catholic Relief Services, Pax Christi and the Catholic Campaign for Human Development partnered with the group under the auspices of the U.S. Bishops Conference.
 See Lederach, John Paul. 2005. The Moral Imagination: the Art and Soul of Building Peace New York: Oxford University Press.
 Ahu Sandal, Nukhet. "Religious Actors as Epistemic Communities in Conflict Transformation: The Cases of South Africa and Northern Ireland." Review of International Studies; Rev.Int.Stud. 37 (3): p. 937.
 See Hesburgh, Theodore, M., "Educating for Peacemaking", pp. 269-273, found in Powers, Gerard F., Drew Christiansen, and Robert T. Hennemeyer. 1994. Peacemaking: Moral and Policy Challenges for a New World Washington, D.C.: United States Catholic Conference.
 See endnote #6.
 See the footnote in Ahu Sandal, Nukhet. "Religious Actors as Epistemic Communities in Conflict Transformation: The Cases of South Africa and Northern Ireland." Review of International Studies; Rev.Int.Stud. 37 (3): p. 936 which references the work of Christopher P. Gilbert, The Impact of Churches on Political Behavior: An Empirical Study (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1993); Ted Jelen, 'Political Christianity: A Contextual Analysis', American Journal of Political Science, 36 (1992), pp. 692-714.