Some facts that had an impact on us:
- For child soldiers in Africa, a gun costs the same as a chicken.
- What must be disarmed? Arsenals? Or family guns?
- Every 10 minutes 15 persons die across the world, victims to firearms.
- 80% of suicides are men, and it is they who carry guns.
- Some of the words heard most often were “inequality”, and, as a consequence, “impoverishment”, and the urgent need to educate toward peace and non-violence.
The 62nd Annual DPI/NGO Conference entitled For Peace and Development: Disarm Now! took place in Mexico City September 9-11. More than 1,100 participants from 55 countries listened to inspiring speakers and heard powerful testimonies from victims of violence. Among the participants was an RSCJ delegation consisting of Patricia García de Quevedo, rscj, Irene Franco, rscj, María Cristina García Vallejo, Coordinator of the Network of Formal Education of the province of Mexico-Nicaragua, and María Zubiría, also a lay collaborator (all from Mexico); and Anne Montgomery, rscj and Cecile Meijer, rscj (both USA).
Sixteen of us stayed with the RSCJ provincial house community: Sisters of Notre Dame de Namur (SNDdN), School Sisters of Notre Dame (SSND), and RSCJ with lay collaborators. We met together, in large and small groups, to prepare for the conference, debriefed and reflected together the day after the conference, entered into the Mexican culture together, prayed and partied together. Coming from Brazil, Mexico, Nicaragua, Peru and USA, our week was a rich inter-cultural and inter-congregational experience of living our General Chapter 2008 calls.
What follows below are some of the reflections of the participants for the Society of the Sacred Heart.
The presence of the UN in Mexico during these days has been very significant. For us, it was an invitation to feel part of a world in which we must do so much with regards to justice, peace, and non-violence.
Different representatives of the United Nations, among them, Ban Ki-moon, Secretary General of the UN, welcomed the participants. The presence of Jody Williams, Nobel Peace winner and Founder of the International Campaign to Ban Land Mines was very meaningful.
The UN has made important statements with regards to disarmament, but we need to become informed and to act as civil society so that these actions will be more significant. Participation and commitment on the part of young people through different NGOs gave me hope. To be as committed as these young people are implies an education to peace and non-violence; this presupposes that they have received support both from family and school.
The opinion of young people with regards to the activities of the UN is generally a negative criticism without a base in solid facts. I know this, as I used to be one of those persons who saw the UN as an organization where there is much talk but little action. I used to think that the objectives proposed were unreachable, and that it was necessary to concretize the strategy to reach them.
My beliefs were reshaped when I was invited by the RSCJ to participate in the Congress that took place in September. I had the opportunity to meet at a deep level, persons fully engaged in change for a better world. Their proposals were innovative and always based in the hope for change. I learned about small projects carried out throughout the world with the same objective of disarmament, through different techniques. Finally, I could understand the importance of the Conference not only as a means to inform but also to contribute concrete ideas on how we can bring about change.
The work of the UN is to plant a small seed in each of the participants so that they will share their ideas and efforts towards a common objective. The UN is not responsible for the lack of action on the part of its members, since it is the responsibility of each person to take what has been learned one step further. Ideas, hopes, projects, and histories were shared with the objective of making them available to those who could not attend the Conference. In my case, I contribute with small steps that seek to inform and support global disarmament from my own context and reality.
Disarmament begins with each person
What I perceived in the Conference was hope, search, pain, questions, challenges and structural difficulties at all levels: local, national and worldwide. And honest engagement in the building of a world that is alive and safe for all.
I believe that the search for disarmament at personal and family level is central; it is both a foundation and a possibility that brings out the value of life, of dialogue, and of the need of differences in the building up of peace; of a more just society that looks after common welfare and is a seed for true human beings who give birth to abundant life in the planet and in all that lives.
In our processes of peace, it is important that
- there be internal personal processes of reconciliation, of experiences of peace, in order to bring it to the consciousness of others. Without a doubt, change in the world begins in the heart of each person;
- dialogue, communication is a condition to establish relationships that live and communicate peace;
- and unity in diversity, as condition for the experience of welcome of the other and of the possibility of making concrete the experience of unconditional love. Only a person who feels loved and accepted is capable of making love a reality through attitudes of inclusion, of listening, of reaching agreements that give life to all parties in a relationship.
The conference also offered a message of hope, ironically from those who have suffered the most from violence ranging from rape to the nuclear bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki. The mayor of Hiroshima, Dr. Tadatoshi Akiba, president of Mayors for Peace, expressed, not a desire for revenge, but the passion of the Hibakusha (a Japanese word that means “a person who was bombed”, and refers to survivors of the atomic destruction of Hiroshima or of Nagasaki ) to save others from enduring what they have suffered. He described the practical, grassroots 2020 Vision Campaign, now including over 3,000 cities in 134 countries, to eliminate nuclear weapons by 2020, preferably sooner. He suggested an Olympic games in Hiroshima to celebrate that victory. Women from indigenous groups in the Congo and Chiapas inspired by their own strength, courage, and persistence in crying out against the violation of their bodies and denial of human rights and by organizing in dangerous and oppressive environments. They witnessed to the fact that real change must come from ordinary people who, as Mayor Akiba stated, refuse to be taken hostage by the weapons of politicians in the face of inequality, racism and oppression, but march together towards a clear and unambiguous goal.
As a laywoman I lived two important dimensions: the first aspect, through the orientation, analysis and reflection led by RSCJ together with SNDdN and SSND sisters. Their lives, their experiences and deep commitment made it possible to open a window to a world both possible and different, and that in order to do this, there are persons who, like them, give their lives, their wisdom and their effort. I had the joy of sharing with each one of them and to experience a deep admiration. Meeting them and those who participated in the Conference represents a sign of great hope, and the realization that even many persons throughout the world offer their small grain of sand and seek new ways and continue to push from their trenches.
A second dimension was opened in listening to all the speakers. Disarmament and atomic bombs seem to be alien concepts to our daily reality. However, as the conference went on, the gamut contained in the word disarmament, took on its true dimension; its painful dimension, lived and near, appeared with familiar faces, pictures of deep loss and of the daily life of many human beings where violence is present as a way of life. To create synergy and commitment with all peoples is the way that these groups point to, in order to achieve cooperation and peace. Compassion as arms, tolerance as flag.
María Cristina García Vallejo