Thursday 24 October 2013

In the periphery of a violent world. The memory of William Quijano

The days of the international meeting “The Courage of Hope” in Rome, the most recent stage of the long journey of peace of the spirit of Assisi, coincided with the fourth anniversary of the sacrifice of William Quijano, a brother of the Community of Saint’Egidio of Apopa (San Salvador), killed on September 28th in mysterious circumstances, probably by one of the maras that wreak havoc on the small central American country. Those same maras from whom he tried to steer away the younger people, through his civil service work - he was a sports promoter (promodor) for the municipality of Apopa - and his involvement in solidarity activity -
through the School of Peace of Saint‘Egidio.
El Salvador “boasts” one of the highest rates of violence in Latin America. Beginning in the 1990s, after the end of the civil war between the government and the guerrillas, maras spread all over the country. These were bands originally established by Salvadoran youth immigrated to Los Angeles who, having returned to their country, started dividing up the territory amongst themselves, especially the urban areas. Today, the maras recruit and initiate to violence tens of thousands of adolescents. This is also the situation in Apopa, the suburb at the outskirts of the capital in which William used to live.
It is in this context that the activity of the Community of Saint’Egidio of El Salvador takes place, bearing fruit in terms of prevention of violence and of transforming the lives of young people. Many volunteers are engaged in the School of Peace. William was among them. Together with the brothers and sisters of the Community he wanted to create a peaceful space, where one could study, play, make friends, learn to respect those who are different.
William loved life, and in a friendly way he attracted many young people and children to the School of Peace, knowing that these were all recruits ripped out of the hands of the maras. His actions broke the chain of violence. And this bothered those who wanted everything to stay the same and wanted the young people to do evil or bow their head. William lived his love for peace until death.
The choice made by this young son of a young continent still speaks to us. His story induces us to believe that it is possible to build a better Latin America.
In many ways, that continent is a peripheral world which lives in a state of fascination with the wealthy world of the United States and which, unable to replicate the life style of the U.S., copies its most extreme and contradictory aspects, violence and individualism. But even more peripheral is the world of Apopa and that of the violent and scared young people that inhabit it.
Thus, in this periphery of history - in this existential periphery, as Pope Francis would like to say - William has truly lived the courage of hope. Hope in a different world, hope in a periphery that would rediscover the centrality of the heart.
It was nice that his life, his testimony, were remembered at the conference in Rome by Jesus Delgado, former personal secretary of Mons. Romero and his first biographer. As he said in one of the round tables of Rome 2013, the example of William is the symbol of “an America of hope”, expression of the faith of the disciples in a God that “lives in the cities” even in the most difficult ones, even in the most violent ones. This example fits well with this time in which Pope Francis calls us to “come out” of ourselves and to move towards the peripheries of the world. 

Tuesday 22 October 2013

Keeping hope alive for peace in the Central African Republic

One month ago, at the beginning of September, an appeal was issued in Rome, at the Community of Sant’Egidio, for peace and reconciliation in the Central African Republic.
Signed by representatives of the Bangui government, of the National Transition Council, of civil society and of the different religious organizations, that document represented for the African country the hope of an exit strategy from a very difficult phase of its history, a season marked by instability and widespread violence.
The text of the “Republican Pact” committed the key social forces of the nation to the defense of
human rights and of the democratic framework, even contemplating a series of permanent mechanisms for the prevention and management of disputes. All main participants in the institutional life and the social sphere were asked to “contribute to the promotion of a culture of peace in Central Africa.”
The participants to the negotiations were in Rome in the days in which the prayer vigil for peace in Syria and the rest of the world called by Pope Francis was being held: an additional motive to work on a path to peace and reconciliation.
However, notwithstanding these recently undertakings, the situation in the Center African Republic remains difficult. The general picture is muddled, the clashes continue. The violence primarily involves areas situated far from the capital, near the boundaries with the Democratic Republic of Congo, but there is concern about the future and about the survival of the peace accords. The dispute among the parties are at times exacerbated by the hostility among religious communities that exist in that area.
We need to support the peace effort launched by the Community and by many men and women of goodwill, in particular by the local Catholic and Evangelical churches. A commitment is needed to defeat indifference, as well as a faithful and insisting prayer that may open a breach where a breach may seem impossible. If prayer changed history in Syria, nothing prevents it from doing the same in Central Africa.  

Sunday 6 October 2013

Rome 2013, in the name of a peaceful “revolt” of hope

In the past few days in Rome, in the opening ceremony at the Auditorium of Via della Conciliazione near Saint Peter, as well as in the various and crowded roundtables around the city, and in the closing ceremony in the splendid and evocative setting of Capitol Hill, we have emphasized the value and strength of hope and experienced a peaceful “revolt” of hope.
A revolt against all pessimism and resignation, against all temptations to leave the field to despair and to the contamination of ancient religious traditions. It was a revolt organized by the Community of Sant’Egidio and carried out by a diverse and heterogeneous group of people, of men and women of all faiths, the protagonists of the “The Courage to Hope”, a new stage of the
pilgrimage of the Spirit of Assisi.
On the first day of the meeting Andrea Riccardi reminded us how religions constitute a reserve of hope in a world marked by dramatization that induces to run in circles, that leads to inaction and fear. In front of the tragic and terrible images that come to us from Syria, Iraq, Pakistan, Kenya, the faithful knows that he must preserve hope, that he must nurture hope, erasing the holy name of God from the lips of those who are violent, rescuing people under the spell of violence, educating them to peace, respect and reciprocal appreciation.
The Roman meeting has therefore presented itself as “a show of hope to contrast the show of terror that we see on television screens and sometimes in our lives”. This means nurturing a vision of the future beyond the pessimism fueled by the ongoing economic crisis. It means to continue to entertain a dream even when people live the nightmares of a difficult story.
Clearly not an easy task, and a big one, in a time that feels like the “winter of hope”, says the founder of Sant’Egidio, “but religions teach us that God is even greater” and that “hope is never lost, you can find it at the bottom of the well of the soul, of a life lived with peace in one’s heart”.
When he welcomed to the Vatican the protagonists of the meeting, on Monday September 30th, Pope Francis echoed such sentiment. He encouraged all to live with confidence and perseverance the mission to bear witness to the hope, to be “artisans of peace”. “Dialogue gives hope. Hope! In the world, in societies, there is little peace because there is a lack of dialogue. Dialogue is the path to peace. This is why it is essential that it grow, that it expand among people of all conditions and beliefs like a web of peace that protects the world and especially the weakest ones”.