INSTRUMENTS OF PEACE
Sr Francis and the Damietta Peace Initiative
Fr Kees Thonissen OFM Cap
We approach the feast of St Francis of Assisi. This small, poor, insignificant man Francis, still eloquently witnesses peace to all of us personally, to our families and nations.
But do we really want peace? I have my doubts – we in South Africa are inundated by the reality that many rather have power – especially power over others. Some value self-assertion or control at all costs. Just touch ‘my world,’ my life, my prestige, and ‘I react’ strongly and attack back. Even in this wonderful country, we see much manipulative, oppressive or reactionary types of violence – we see this in relationships, marriage, family life, local society, and nationally. Our national crime statistics make of this ‘power over others’ in South Africa an international scandal.
So, we rather idealistically ‘talk of peace,’ but in our lives there are power struggles between spouses seen in collapsing marriages, teenagers wanting freedom ‘against’ their parents, parents not supporting their children, teenagers under stress turning to drugs, and all types of social disturbances at every level. We know these too well: trade unions versus business, workers versus farmers, locals against foreigners, political ideology and expediency versus tough economic realities, between political parties and within political parties, and so on.
In a harmonious ‘rainbow nation’ we talk ourselves into being people of peace. Yet despite so much good-will and enthusiastic energy that is indeed our South Africa, there is this evidence of deep-seated attitudes betraying resentment, anger and surreptitious propagating of violence, hatred against other groups (‘boers’, whites, blacks, refugees, subcultures) and condoning of the appalling subjugation of women, and abuse of children.
Can we really have peace ………- if as a country we haven’t got it?
There is then plenty of evidence in South Africa we still haven’t got it – or are letting it slip away once again. Many say the roots of contemporary violence were bred in apartheid society. Granted, but a deeper basis for unstableness or peacefulness lies in the family – here values are carefully fostered over say, 18 years. Our Vice President Kgalema Motlanthe says that millions of unemployed youth are a ticking time bomb for this country. Against such mounting frustration, strong values of discipline, cooperation and application are needed for resilience and the many energetic efforts required to sustain productivity and optimism in this land. Long lasting values are best engendered in the family. Grabbing what one can through anarchy is the stark alternative. There are bad ways forwards and productive ones. All must choose out of which values they will act.
I share a simple story. We had a father in one of our Peace Groups sharing he was sad and hurt. He had just told the police about his son’s misdemeanours. He found himself in a predicament: he was sharing with us about values that build peace and society in his Damietta Peace Group. He had tried to teach these kinds of values to his son all his life, and his son had betrayed them at the expense of others. Although loyal to his son, he could foresee further damage to others and ultimately also his son. He thought hard and painfully – he finally believed that he had to hold up real values to his son, and told him so, and so delivered him to the police. He had to try and teach his son this one last lesson in his life. The father felt that the values he had re-embraced in his Damietta Peace Group had led him to do the right thing – but it cost him dearly.
This short tale tells of counter values and shows what the Damietta Peace Initiative is all about – the fostering of values of peace, harmony, respect for others, appreciation of difference, and reverence for creation. Nonviolent attitudes are the things that avert violence and pave the way to peace.
Have ‘we got’ this peace in SA? If not, we can still ‘get it.’ We can absorb the gift of real peace that is offered by the King of Peace as eschatological (end time) gift for the New Age of Peace.
St Francis fully recognised this eschatological offer of peace and became ‘an instrument of peace.’ To find peace we have to ask for it, pray for it, and consciously own it like the father in our story did, and so practice it in our smallest society units – our families and our small neighbourhoods.
Many PACTS (Pan African conciliation teams) have been formed all over Africa, in Kenya, Zambia, Nigeria, South Africa so that people can build trust in these local PACTs – and gradually transform society from within (also through much needed self help projects). People decide to join across lines of suspicion and hatred. Read more about Damietta Peace on the web (www.damiettapeace) – why not ask advice and help start a peace group in your area?
Yes we need to deeply want peace – and Francis at this time gives us a beautiful example how to imbibe this peace. He breathed in the Peace of God and radiated it on all those about him. He offers us an inspirational way that historically succeeded in breaking down the violence of mediaeval society in his time.
Francis was indeed an ‘instrument of peace’ – why not let him inspire us to ‘absorb peace’ from God so that we ‘discover’ peace as a gift within us, cooperate with its promptings, and overcome even our deep lying unconscious angers and resistances, so that we are transformed into ‘real peacemakers’ (not ‘peace talkers’). The family is the place to foster the value of peace. Why not say Francis’ Peace Prayer at family supper asking God for Peace in this beautiful land?
Then we may be able to say ‘we have peace!’ It is then that we will find peace growing in our homes, neighbourhoods, work, and country.
(Those interested in pursuing a lifelong commitment to peace-making as a Capuchin Franciscan can contact our vocations director Fr Albert: email@example.com).