Brother and sisters, I am greatly honored to address you today on behalf of the general secretary of the World Council of Churches, Rev. Prof. Dr Jerry Pillay, and the whole WCC family on occasion of this “International Conference for Reconciliation in Colombia - Ecumenical Experiences and Learnings in the Construction of the Peace.”
I am accompanied in this visit by Rev. Vilma Yañez, from the Presbyterian Church of Colombia, who is a member of the central committee of the WCC, Dr h.c. Humberto Shikiya, WCC regional representative to the Colombia peace process, and Dr Marcelo Schneider, who is our Latin America specialists and communication officer, who has helped coordinate this visit.
The World Council of Churches was born at a time when the world was struggling with violent conflict and wars, especially in Europe. The question for the churches was, “how can we claim Christian unity when we are killing, oppressing and hurting each other?” The pursuit of unity for the churches became by extension, a quest for unity for all humanity. The ultimate witness of such peace was going to manifest itself in just and peaceful relationships among people. With time, such peace and justice would extend to human beings’ relationship with their environment. Today, at its 75th birthday, the World Council of Churches seeks to reiterate the ecumenical movement’s commitment to peace and justice in the world.
It is this commitment to lasting peace and justice in the world that has informed decades of ecumenical deliberation, understanding, practice, and advocacy, assisting churches to make progress toward greater unity for peace.
Some of you will be aware of the WCC’s work of accompaniment in Israel-Palestine; search for inclusive citizenship in Egypt, Syria and Iraq; ecumenical efforts for peace, reconciliation and reunification of the divided South and North Korean people. You will be aware of the fellowship’s current efforts to bring together Russia and Ukrainian Christians to explore possibilities for Christians to seek peace not according to the standards of this world—peace not as the world gives.
It is in this same spirit that has guided the WCC’s accompaniment of the peace process in Colombia for more than two decades now. Today we are joining you in your ongoing pursuit of lasting peace at a time when the world is gripped with geopolitical tensions, retrogression on commitment to democracy, growing militarization, and polarization of communities and the world. This puts the peace process in Colombia in special light, not because you have overcome all the obstacles to peace, but because you have decided to confront them and address them.
What is the message of the WCC on this occasion of your journey towards a “total peace”, as President Gustavo Petro, has named it? The message of the WCC is to do three things.
First, to remind you of how violent conflict retards comprehensive human flourishing. Second, that the right kind of peace, is bigger than partisan politics and needs to be embraced by all. Third, that the Colombia peace process may be a catalyst for peace to our troubled world.
Negative impact of conflict
The best way to describe the negative effects of violent conflict in the world was best articulated in the WCC companion for peace building in 2012 as follows: “There are many stories to tell—stories soaked with violence, the violation of human dignity and the destruction of creation. If all ears would hear the cries, no place would be truly silent. Many continue to reel from the impact of wars …(leaving) ugly scars. Thousands are dead, displaced, homeless, refugees within their own homeland. Women…are abused, trafficked, killed; children are separated from their parents, orphaned, recruited as soldiers, abused. Citizens …face violence by occupation, paramilitaries, guerrillas, criminal cartels, or government forces…Thousands of children die each day from inadequate nutrition while those in power continue to make economic and political decisions that favor a relative few.” This is a generic description of the consequences of violent conflict. There would be no meaningful pursuit of peace if the consequences of violence are not viewed as dehumanizing, not only the victims but also the perpetrator. It is the humanization of both the perpetrators and victims that can allow the possibilities of imagining an alternative future. It is only the humanizing process that will move society to a collective rejection of the displacing of millions, tearing apart of families, uprooting of entire communities. It is only humanization that will stop individuals from finding joy and satisfaction in selfish accumulation of wealth and the suffering of many.
It is this first call that we bring as we encourage you to commit to the peace process—humanize yourselves as well as humanizing others.
The WCC and the Just Peace agenda
The second call we bring is to impress upon all of you that peace, justice, and unity are bigger than partisan political programs—they are gifts from God. Human beings are too selfish to truly seek peace, justice, and unity for their own sake without any strings attached.
It is for this reason that we call upon all the people of Colombia, in their pursuit of peace and reconciliation, to elevate their vision beyond partisan politics. If our vision for peace is aligned to a partisan political orientation, our commitment to it only lasts as long as our favourite political affiliation is in charge.
This call is informed by the realization that many notions of peace proffered in human history, have been sustainable. It has been observed that, during a period of 200 years between 27 B.C.E. and 180 C.E., the Mediterranean enjoyed peace, unity, and economic prosperity it had never known. This has been called the Pax Romana or the peace of Rome. It is now known that this “peace was substantially maintained through tyranny” where “150,000 legionaries, divided into thirty legions, and supported by 150,000 auxiliaries were sufficient to protect an empire of approximately 60 million inhabitants.” When Jesus is imagined like Moses standing on the mountain saying, “blessed are the peace makers, for they shall be called the children of God,” this would have been heard like a revolutionary message. Indeed it was.
The Jesus movement did not consider it peace when the majority of people were dispossessed of their land and made into day laborers. They did not see it as peace when the majority were impoverished through double taxation that threw everyone into debt except a few from the aristocracy who were connected to Rome. The Jesus movement did not see it as peace when young people who saw the oppressive presence of the Romans as idolatrous and imperial but their voices suppressed and ending up on the cross. Roman peace was not peace at all.
The WCC has, since the turn of the millennium, inspired by the Decade to Overcome Violence, sought to tease out the Old Testament peace traditions that inspired the Jesus movement and lifted up the just peace agenda.
The influence of the peace churches in this development is well documented. This vision of peace receives its inspiration from the biblical meaning of shalom, which points to the interdependent relationship between justice and peace.
Shalom is usually translated as ”completeness, soundness, welfare, peace,” but shalom also links peace with all the following concepts: justice (mishpat), rightness (tsedeq) or righteousness (tsedeqah), compassion (hesed) and truthfulness (emet). There is no peace without justice (mishpat), and justice implies fair judgment and rectitude, which requires giving what is right and just to the afflicted, establishing and maintaining right relationships in community…Shalom is related to the Arabic notion of islam, which means submission of oneself to God, giving us the understanding that all peace is of God, and the wholeness of human life includes partnership with God who is just, merciful, and righteous. (This kind of) Peace is ultimately a gift from God. It is the manifestation of God’s righteous rule over all of creation and is affirmed as the reliable promise of God’s salvation, as expressed in Psalm 85: “Let me hear what God the Lord will speak, for he will speak peace to his people, to his faithful, to those who turn to him in their hearts. Surely his salvation is at hand for those who fear him, that his glory may dwell in our land. Steadfast love and faithfulness will meet, righteousness and peace will kiss each other, Faithfulness will spring up from the ground, and righteousness will look down from the sky” (Ps. 85:8-11).
This kind of peace is too big to be a monopoly of political parties and organizations. It is for this reason, we must call on all the people of Colombia to unite behind this bigger vision of peace with justice.
Within the WCC and the broader ecumenical movement, this theological understanding of peace as connected to justice has also shaped the methodology of peace-making. It is an approach that emphasizes the importance of addressing root causes of conflicts and working towards sustainable and equitable solutions in participatory ways. In this understanding, peace begins by instilling the values and beliefs of non-violence, of cooperation, and harmony.
This vision for peace must focus on individuals in their community. Programmatically, this means that “Churches become builders of a culture of peace as they engage, cooperate and learn from one another. Members, families, parishes and communities will be involved. The tasks include learning to prevent conflicts and transform them; to protect and empower those who are marginalized; to affirm the role of women in resolving conflict and building peace and include them in all such initiatives; to support and participate in nonviolent movements for justice and human rights; and to give peace education its rightful place in churches and schools.
“A culture of peace requires churches and other faith and community groups to challenge violence wherever it happens: this concerns structural and habitual violence as well as the violence that pervades media entertainment, games and music. Cultures of peace are realized when all, especially women and children, are safe from sexual violence and protected from armed conflict, when deadly weapons are banned and removed from communities, and domestic violence is addressed and stopped.”
This approach to peace also focuses on the relationship between human beings and the whole creation. This peace is also a call to care for God’s precious creation and to strive for ecological justice. It is also a call for Christians to repent from wasteful use of natural resources and be converted daily. Churches and their members striving for this peace are cautious with the earth’s resources, especially with water. Such concern for peace involves the protection of those populations most vulnerable to climate change and help to secure their rights.
This peace is also reflective at the level of economic relations or peace in the marketplace, which is nurtured by creating “economies of life” whose essential foundations are equitable socio-economic relationships, respect for workers’ rights, the just sharing and sustainable use of resources, healthy and affordable food for all, and broad participation in economic decision-making.
This kind of peace, as promoted in the ecumenical movement, must also be reflected at the level of relations among nations and peoples. To respect the sanctity of life and build peace among peoples, churches must work to strengthen international human rights law as well as treaties and instruments of mutual accountability and conflict resolution. To prevent deadly conflicts and mass killings, the proliferation of small arms and weapons of war must be stopped and reversed. Churches must build trust and collaborate with other communities of faith and people of different worldviews to reduce national capacities for waging war, eliminate weapons that put humanity and the planet at unprecedented risk, and generally delegitimize the institution of war.
This scope of the theological vision of peace cannot be achieved by nations divided over political dispensations and regimes. It requires a long-term approach which can only be fulfilled by those who see themselves working towards the realisation of the eschatological kingdom of God. This is our call to the churches and people of Colombia.
Conclusion and promise of the Colombian peace process
Could Colombia’s peace process be an inspiration to the rest of the world at a time when the whole world is witnessing the resurgence of the Cold war, except that this one is hot?
Could God’s promise in Leviticus be realised in Colombia? “I will grant peace in the land, and you will lie down and no one will make you afraid. I will remove wild beasts from the land, and the sword will not pass through your country” (Leviticus 26:6).
Is Colombia going to be the fulfilment, even in partial way, of the prophecy of Isaiah?
“In that day the wolf and the lamb will lie down together, and the leopard and goats will be at peace. Calves and fat cattle will be safe among lions, and a little child shall lead them all. 7 The cows will graze among bears; cubs and calves will lie down together, and lions will eat grass like the cows. 8 Babies will crawl safely among poisonous snakes, and a little child who puts his hand in a nest of deadly adders will pull it out unharmed” (Isaiah 11:6-8).
The successful resolution of the Colombian conflict will serve as a beacon of hope and inspiration for other conflict-ridden regions worldwide. It will demonstrate that peace is possible even in the most entrenched and complex situations, encouraging other nations and parties to rekindle their commitment to peaceful dialogue and reconciliation.
It is our hope that a Colombia success story can also pave the way for the global community to reconsider its approach to conflict resolution. It can remind us all that lasting peace is not solely about military victories or unilateral dominance but requires a comprehensive and inclusive approach. It is for this reason that the WCC is committed to accompany you in this process.
Our accompaniment would not have been complete without some of our partners here on the ground.
As I conclude I therefore want to recognize Diálogo Intereclesial por la Paz de Colombia (DiPAZ) who has ensured the coordinated participation of the churches in the national peace process. The WCC is grateful to accompany DiPAZ and all our partners in this vision for peace in Colombia.
We are also grateful to the Lutheran World Federation that has provided physical office space for us to use while we are involved in this process.
I also want to appreciate our cooperation with the Latin America Catholic Bishops’ Conference, with whom we have agreed to deepen our cooperation for the sake of peace.
Last but not least, let me also mention the Honorable Senator Lorena Ríos Cuellar for her unflinching commitment to make sure the churches and civil society are recognized as key actors in the nation peace process.
Let me stop mentioning anymore partners, lest I omit many of you—our valued partners.
Our call is to humanize conflict so that we are moved by compassion to find common ground. We are calling you to rise above your partisan affiliations so that you get united in one greater calling of peace, justice, and unity.
We are encouraging you to choose to be the example and catalyst for a new era of peace, reconciliation and abundant life for all people.
 Just Peace companion, 2012, p.2
 Just Peace companion, 2012, p.20
 Just Peace companion, 2012, p.9-10
 Just Peace companion, 2012, p.10-11
 Just Peace companion, 2012, p.12
 Just Peace companion, 2012, p.13