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Asian Youth Perspective on Building Communities of Peace

Lesley G. Capus1

Introduction

Asia and the Pacific are blessed with and noted for the diversity in race/ethnicity, language, and culture. Moreover, we have very rich and abundant resources, both natural and human. In fact, we supply food and mineral resources, as well as vast (and cheap) labor power.

Dr. Ninan Koshy describes the region as a “colorful mosaic of cultures, languages, ideologies, races and tribes.”2 One of our most remarkable distinctions, he adds, is religious plurality. Given the differences, our history shows us that we were able to live in tolerance. We were able to co-exist with each other, by being able to respect one another, to work and live together without necessarily undermining or dominating the other.

However, it is unfortunate that in the present situation, “in many places in Asia, these differences are often the cause of opposition, discrimination, division, discord, and animosity.”3 Worst, such differences are often exploited and manipulated by business and colonial powers to foment further divisions and violence among our peoples and nations so they could ensure their hegemonic political and economic interests over the region.

Doubtless, these conditions and manifestations of un-peace, violence, and brokenness are the challenges we in the ecumenical movement are faced with today. Peace-building must then be a central focus of our mission and ministry. The context of the CCA Assembly and this pre-assembly Youth Forum is a regional (or even global) situation where it faces a tsunami of tears and woes.

Biblical Notions of Peace

Old Testament tradition

“Shalom” is Hebrew word for peace. More than the popular thought of absence of war, shalom means genuine well being that extends into personal, social, political, and economic realms. Many passages in the Old Testament can illustrate this point:

Genesis 29: 6; 43:27 speaks of physical well-being or concern for your good state of health, as well as, maintaining good relationships (to God, family, community, and environment).

Ecclesiastes 3:8 refers to “a time for loving, a time for hating; a time for war, a time for peace”.
Psalms illustrates the close link of justice with shalom. Justice is the basic foundation for lasting peace. Psalms 85:9-14 speaks of the welfare of the nation that is ensured when there is justice and peace. Psalms 34:14 speaks of moral and ethical exhortation.

Isaiah 11:5-9 refers to Solomon’s model of peace in ensuring a peaceful and sovereign kingdom.

In Judges 11:13, shalom refers to proper economic relationship. For example, in order for persons to live in peace, the land grabber must return the land to its original owner.

New Testament Tradition

John 14:27, “Peace is what I leave you”, is part of the farewell discourse of Jesus, when he gave advice to his disciples to strengthen their resolve to continue his struggle. This was his final legacy pronounced at a time when he was most troubled by his impending death. It was a testament of a man who lived peace and was able to give it in season or out of season.

Luke 24: 35-40, “Peace be with you”, is the statement uttered by Jesus to the doubting and wavering disciples after his resurrection.

In Matthew 25, shalom implies attending to the needs of others including their “health and prosperity”.

Other Theological Explanations

PEACE is comprehensive and indivisible. There can be no peace without a right relationship with God, with fellow humans, with nature, with oneself. Shalom is a condition of total well-being (NCCP Peace Module).

SHALOM is a state of well-being of the individual or group, between and among people, and between people and nature. We cannot speak of being at peace with God when other people –all God’s children, continue to live in a state of un-peace (NCCP Peace Module).

Our Regional Concerns and Focus

The Asia-Pacific ecumenical youth and student movement must strive harder in opposing globalization because this is the principal culprit behind the violence, discord and disunity among our communities.

Economic Globalization, the failed economic paradigm, deceptively wants to integrate the economies of the whole world into the “liberal” capitalist market economy. It espouses a distorted concept of world unity and community. It promises economic salvation to all countries that will join the global village and follow its prescription of Structural Adjustment Policies and other neo-liberal policies. However, what we have are:

  • Chronic and unprecedented economic crisis that impoverished millions of our people and widened the gap between the rich and the poor;
  • Trade liberalization which resulted in the massive dumping of foreign finished products at the detriment of national and local industries;
  • Privatization that has deprived the masses of essential public services that should be accorded to them by the state;
  • Deregulation of vital industries such as power, oil, and water, resulting in more bitterness and misery for the toiling and laboring masses;
  • Natural resources in the region have been exploited for super profit at the expense of national patrimony; this might result in catastrophic consequences and displacements of communities.

For the youth, the impact of globalization is overwhelming. Unemployment among the youth in the regional level is at an all-time high. National governments are now exporting their sons and daughters as cheap migrant workers. As a social consequence, the region has been considered a center of human trafficking, especially of women and children. Taking further advantage of our impoverishment are the greedy international financial institutions that keep us in perpetual indebtedness.

Let us consider the analysis of Bert Hoedmaker:

Globalization is a deceptive form of unity. It suggests universal salvation while hiding and disguising divisions and fragmentation – a growing dichotomy between rich and poor, between global uniformity and local pluriformity – a merciless attack on the ‘integrity of creation’. In this respect it signals the failure of the modern visions of unity, which had been so important for the genesis of the ecumenical movement. The ecumenical movement is deeply indebted to modernity and now finds itself called by the logic of its own development to rethink the heritage in a particular way. 4

Militarized Globalization is the use of war to control market, resources and culture. Those who oppose are “silenced by the sword”5. It is investment in and commodification of bloody conflicts.

Globalization and militarism should be seen as two sides of the same coin. On one side, globalization promotes the conditions that led to unrest, inequality, conflict and ultimately war. On the other hand, globalization fuels the means to wage war by protecting and promoting the military industries needed to produce sophisticated weaponry. The weaponry is used – or its use is threatened – to protect the interest of transnational corporations.6

In the guise of fighting terrorism, the United States is the leading implementer of militarized globalization to further strengthen its “empire” building. Michael Ignatieff explains this sharply:

But what word but “empire” describes that awesome thing that America is becming? It is the only nation that polices the entire world through five global commands, maintains more than a million men and women in arms in four continents, deploys carrier battle groups on watch in every ocean, guarantees the survival of countries from Israel to South Korea, drives the wheel of global trade and commerce and fills the heart and minds of the entire planet with its dreams and desires.7

Ninan Koshy clarified that militarized globalization is simply imperialism at its worst:

We are no longer talking about imperialism in the abstract or merely as an ideology. We have to talk about the building of an American empire physically and territorially. For a long time the concept of imperialism was considered outside acceptable range of political discourse. Suddenly this is no longer true. Comparisons of the USA to imperial Rome and imperial Britain are common within the mainstream press. Terms like “sole superpower”, ‘hyperpower” and “hegemony” no longer adequately reflect what the USA is about and what it is doing.8

Asia will remain in a prolonged state of un-peace having been declared as the second front of the US brutal war on terror. We are essentially and strategically necessary for the US to be more aggressive in its interventionist role to secure its vital interest in the region and contain possible threats to its empire, i.e. China, North Korea and the national liberation movements and revolutionary movements in the region. Asia was most affected by the shift in US policy since the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001. Southeast Asia, in particular, is the alleged haven of perceived Islamic terrorists, real or imagined.

Thus, we now witness relentless bombings, kidnappings, war exercises, deceptive access agreements for US troops and weaponry, draconian anti-terrorist laws, and laboratory and practice ground for new “anti-terrorist” (or counter-insurgency) combat operation. In this situation, the youth would be developed either as cannon fodders or mere collateral damages of their unjust war. Human rights violations have already increased critically almost at par during the times of Asian martial law regimes.

Cultural Globalization or cultural imperialism intends to dominate the hearts and minds of Asian peoples under the Empire’s economic and political agenda. While the advance of global information technology and communication could be praised, a critical look at its role points to the spread of modern consumerist values and largely western cultural expression and acquisitive lifestyles. As an ideological tool, it intends to obliterate any liberating thought, ideas or even spirituality that would run counter to globalization.

Sharon Rose Duremdes identified some major effects of globalization to our spirituality: indifference, fundamentalism, materialistic perception of life (reducing everything and everyone to a business transaction), resurrection of the law of the jungle, and commodification of God and religion.9 The Human Development Report in 1999 observes that cultural globalization brings about cultural insecurity:

Globalization opens people’s lives to culture and all its creativity and to flow of ideas and knowledge. But the new culture carried by expanding global markets is disquieting. Today’s flow of culture is unbalanced, heavily weighted in one direction, from rich countries to poor. Such onslaught of foreign culture can put cultural diversity at risk and make people fear their cultural identity.10

Need for Ecumenical Youth Peacemakers

The situation of un-peace in our region is not consistent to the biblical vision of the Prince of Peace, Jesus Christ. Therefore, it is necessary for the Ecumenical Youth Movement to be pacemakers in these troubled times. A Roman Catholic priest shared with some Protestant seminarians recently that peacemaking or building is integral to the Christian vocation and an option that we are free to make or not. It includes the following: getting involved in concrete projects in view of a culture of justice; putting ourselves in the context and actual conflict situations; opposing wars forced on our people; recognizing legitimate and just people’s struggle for genuine peace; engaging vigorously in meaningful dialogue and collaborative efforts with the very people who long for peace, i. e. workers, farmers, indigenous peoples, and people of other faiths.11

Peacemaking being an imperative means our active participation. The NCCP General Secretary radically suggests that to be effective peacemakers, we need to wage WAR: against the value systems of the dominant society, i.e. ideology of greed over need; against walls that we ourselves have set up, i. e. dividing walls of hostility (Ephesians 2) like laws, commandments and ordinances detrimental to the people’s well-being; and against our very own apathy, passivity and negligence.


How could this possibly be carried out?

The situation provides a favorable occasion for many who desire and work for meaningful change or transformation. Here are what I think we can do:

1. Ecumenical youth leadership and formation. Borrowing the old catchphrase, “Without revolutionary theory, there can never be a revolutionary movement”12 , a strong and vibrant ecumenical movement requires extensive ecumenical education and formation work especially among our emerging ecumenical youth leaders. We need ecumenical youth leaders who have a deep and clear grasp of the ecumenical principles, mission and agenda, and can articulate them well. We need to aggressively study and train educators who would propagate the ideals of ecumenism and help in developing it further in theory and in practice. Our capacity building training programs must help equip our national and regional leaders in their organizing and organizational management of the ecumenical movement.

2. Advocacy Work/Concerns. Peacemaking, conflict resolution and human rights work must be stressed and sustained further. We must also include pro-active training programmes on Disaster Response and Management in the light of the recent tragedies due to natural calamities, and other issues such as HIV-AIDS and diseases.

3. Strengthening of regional network and formation. The Asia Student Youth Gathering (ASYG) at Cipayung, Indonesia last December 2005 was not just another youth conference that intended to end up with mere conference statements. It was to be a visible expression of building a community of young peacemakers coming from major Christian youth formations in the region who intend to work collectively on common concerns. ASYG and EASY-Net are two regional initiatives that need to be strengthened further. In the near future, as we consolidate our regional efforts, we hope we could likewise enjoin other Christian youth to take part of this network.

4. Interfaith and inter-religious dialogues. Interfaith and inter-religious initiatives must likewise be amongst our priority concerns. We can only possibly overcome and prevent religious-ethnic conflict if we can actively engage ourselves in dialogues, joint undertakings and alliances with youth of other faith communities. This I believe is the most relevant form of mission we need to strive for. To quote Ninan Koshy: “This is also a period where churches and religions are finding one another, where we Christians are finding a new place, mission and involvement in the world. The need for togetherness and with the world realities-histories and history.”

A Muslim who seeks peace through interfaith initiatives puts it this way: “The only way human beings can defeat Satan and obliterate the hatred for each other from human minds is to follow the Lord’s commandments by faith and deeds. Let us not pay attention to labels of various religions and sects. Let us embrace each other with love, care and compassion because our deeds are the same and the prescriptions of salvation and ascension to God’s kingdom are the same in every religion. The differences are MAN-MADE.”13

Conclusion

Let me conclude by drawing inspiration once more from the Bible, which guides me in my conviction to embrace the vocation and profession of being a peacemaker despite enormous threat to my personal security, given our hostile political environment in the Philippines today. “If a brother or a sister is naked and lacks daily food, and one of you says to them, ‘Go in peace; keep warm and eat your fill’, and yet do not supply their bodily needs, what is the good of that? So faith by itself, if it has no works, is dead”(James 2:15-17).

NOTES :

1 Mr. Lesley G. Capus is Youth Desk coordinator of the National Council of Churches in the Philippines. He gave this reflection at the Youth Forum in Chiang Mai, Thailand.

2 Ninan Koshy, “Challenge of Pluralism” in A History of the Ecumenical Movement in Asia Vol. I (Hong Kong: CCA, APAY, WSCF A-P), 346.

3 Hope Antone, Building Communities of Peace for All: Theme and Stories, 6.

4 Bert Hoedmaker, in The Ecumenical Review, Vol. 50 No. 3 (July 1998), 307.

5 Sharon Rose Joy Ruiz-Duremdes, in This Thing Called Globalization, WVEC Study Series 2004.

6 Steven Staples, in Social Justice Magazine, Vol. 27, no. 4 (2000).

7 Michael Ignatieff, in New York Times Magazine (5 January 2003).

8 Ninan Koshy, “Challenges from the War on Terror”, in A History of the Ecumenical Movement in Asia, Vol. I, 340.

9 Ms. Sharon Rose Joy Ruiz-Duremdes, in That Thing Called Globalization, WVEC Study Series 2004.

10 United Nations Development Programme, Human Development Report 1999, New York, page 16.

11 Rev. Fr. Allan Arcebuche (FMM), in Peacemaking and Peacebuilding Ministry, April 2004.

12 V. I. Lenin, “What Is to Be Done?” in Collected Works, English Edn. (Moscow: FLPH, 1961), Vol. V, 369.

13 Sajjad Syed Haider, in Interfaith Spiritual Fellowship, Malaysia 2001.

 


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