: Build Peace
To Build Peace and Bring Hope
Australian Catholic University
2004 Lenten Lecture
by Mark Raper SJ
Provincial of the Jesuits in Australia
Leone Ryan Auditorium, North Sydney
Ash Wednesday, February 25, 2004
May I acknowledge with you the traditional owners of this place.
Theirs is the oldest living human culture, deserving our deepest
May I also acknowledge you who are members of Australian Catholic
University (ACU), students, teachers and administrative staff. In
Ex Corde Ecclesia, the Holy Father asks, “What is a Catholic
University?” First and foremost, he says, it must be a good
university. A Catholic university is mandated to offer, through
its leadership, curriculum, teaching and student bodies, and through
its cooperative undertakings, effective avenues for addressing the
needs and desires of many people and of society. A Catholic university,
based as it is on gospel values, and committed both to the pursuit
of academic excellence and service to the wider community, has both
the freedom and the obligation to work for justice and thus to serve
our desires for peace.
While I have this opportunity, may I congratulate ACU and through
you, Vice Chancellor, thank the University for its creative initiative
in enrolling 24 Burmese refugees currently living in jungle conditions
at the Thai Burma border in a joint project with the Jesuit Refugee
Service (JRS). In this way these young refugees, though still in
camps, and though their people are not yet at peace (indeed theirs
is one of the world’s longest running conflicts), do not lose
their time of waiting.
Refugees are not new. Even the story of Adam and Eve speaks of
their exile. For as long as intolerance and oppression have been
part of human history, there have been refugees. The numbers of
people uprooted today, and the extent of human suffering may not
be proportionately greater than at other times in history. The numbers
displaced by the Second World War, for example, were in the tens
of millions. But with the spread of modernity and its means of communication
to every corner of the globe, not only have the total numbers risen,
but we are also more aware of them. Contemporary media makes their
plight, the size, frequency, speed and complexity of the refugee
crises, immediate to us all. The arrival of a small number on our
shores, not in itself a new phenomenon, is now a matter of hyperbolic
rhetoric in Australia and in most Western societies.
Refugees are everywhere, and so are stories about them. Refugees
today move in new directions, and can arrive anywhere, although
it is often overlooked that 90% of them remain in the poorest countries.
Rather than searching for ways to protect the rights of asylum seekers,
states present themselves as overwhelmed by a crisis. But instead
of seeking solutions, they try by all means either to ignore the
problem or to block the movements. Yet harsh legislation, ostensibly
designed to protect states against refugees and migrants, only serves
to strengthen illegal operations that bring desperate people across
borders. The real refugee crisis is that the root causes are again
overlooked, and that the international set of agreements designed
to offer protection to refugees is now being dismantled, piece by
piece, by the states that signed them into force.
My lecture tonight is entitled, “To build peace and to bring
hope”. It is a Lenten lecture. “During Lent, we prepare
to relive the Paschal Mystery, which sheds the light of hope upon
the whole of our existence, even its most complex and painful aspects”,
wrote the Pope in his message for Lent 2004. And in his Peace Message
last January 1st, he spoke of love “… the deepest hope
of every human heart” as the foundation of authentic and lasting
peace. To be a refugee is a complex and painful human experience.
If we will hear them, the refugees will teach us what it is to bring
hope, and what are the ways to build peace.
I have chosen to speak about the world-wide movement of refugees
today, about what I believe are the causes of this phenomenon, how
it impacts on our society, and what we can do in response. With
your permission, I do not pretend to give an academic lecture. Rather
I will seek to reflect on my experiences of living and working with
refugees for over 20 years.
“Building Peace, Bringing Hope” is also the theme for
Caritas Australia’s Project Compassion appeal, which begins
today and runs throughout Lent. Caritas Australia is the finest
and most effective non-government organisation (NGO) of its kind
in Australia. It deserves and needs your support. Caritas is grass
roots, it goes to the root causes of poverty, disadvantage and conflict
and it is inspired by compassion. The Caritas international federation
comprises 154 national relief, development and social work agencies
present in 198 countries and territories throughout the world. This
federation commands more personnel, a greater budget, and a broader
public involvement than any agency of the United Nations (UN), indeed
of several UN agencies together. Because of its network of local
partners, Caritas is close to people in need, it responds quickly
to changing conditions and it stays when other agencies leave. For
example, Caritas Iraq, supported by Caritas Australia, continues
to work with the Iraqi people despite the exodus of other NGOs and
How is it that so much resources and energy are spent, by individuals
and governments, in order to avoid what we fear, yet so little is
spent on pursuing what we love, respect or long for? In order to
build peace and to bring hope, we are invited to follow our hearts
rather than to surrender to our fears.
“If you want peace, work for justice”, said Pope Paul
VI. But his advice is contrary to the logic of some other world
leaders. In response to threat facing his country, the President
of the world’s most powerful state could only promise to lead
the world into a war that will not end, against an enemy that is
not clear. The Iraq war revealed the tragic failure of international
diplomacy. It showed that a nation may be powerful to destroy, but
it takes a totally different type of power to build.
Project Compassion’s theme, “Building Peace, Bringing
Hope”, takes up the gospel call, ‘Do not be afraid’
in a world increasingly dominated by fear and insecurity. Fear is
dominant in the formulation of both international and domestic policies
today. The logic of fear leads to anxiety, isolation, suspicion,
inaction, violence. By contrast the way of the gospel speaks to
our desires. ‘Do not be afraid’ is a way of releasing
dreams and desires of peace and hope. The logic of desires leads
to confidence, trust, reconciliation.
Hope is different from optimism. Hope arises from lived experiences
of suffering. Imagine the will, the sustained desire, the strength
of character, needed to keep a refugee’s hope alive, not only
in escaping persecution, but in surviving ongoing detention, isolation
Through some stories and some pictures, I invite you into the refugee
experience, and through that experience to another way of viewing
our world. Not all refugee stories have happy outcomes, in fact
far from it. Sometimes we experience only our powerlessness. Yet
we can learn from all of the stories.
Gabriel, a six-foot-six Dinka, had arrived in Thailand after a
journey that, for his people, rivalled Marco Polo’s. Travelling
by foot to escape the fighting which had begun in 1983 in his home
in Southern Sudan, he had crossed into Egypt and on to Iran to study,
but instead was drafted to be a porter in the Iran-Iraq war. Escaping,
he failed to get passage westwards to Europe and so, heading east
towards Australia, was stopped in Singapore and diverted to Thailand.
There I found him, culturally disoriented, alone and desperate.
He visited frequently, and with an officer from the United Nations
High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), we searched everywhere for
a country to take him. Australia, New Zealand, USA, Canada, Sweden,
none would even interview him. Finally he was offered three choices,
a trip home to the Sudan, or Kenya, or Liberia. In desperation he
accepted Liberia and departed in 1987. The women in our office gave
him the biggest shirt they could find in the shops. Several times
he wrote to me, his words dictated to a Scottish Salesian priest.
A few years later I was in my new position in Rome. Deeply moved
by the suffering of the Liberian people, I went in 1992 to war-ravaged
Monrovia to see what could be done. While there I hunted for Gabriel.
Visiting the Salesians, I asked if they had known him. Sure enough,
they pointed me to a Scot, the one who had written Gabriel’s
letters. He told me how Gabriel had died, mistaken for a Mandingo,
waving his long arms and showing his refugee card, trying to explain
to a drugged, over-armed Krahn follower of Charles Taylor, that
he was ‘under the protection’ of the United Nations.
I wept for Gabriel and the many victims of that senseless never
Perhaps there is no moral to draw from the story of Gabriel who
had traversed, mostly on foot, the geography of our world of conflict
and refugees: escaping the Sudan war he was caught in a middle Eastern
one, blocked when trying asylum routes west, east, south and north,
caught in the eddy of the Indochinese refugee tide, finally a target
in someone else’s war.
Every continent and every region of the world is affected by forced
displacement of people. Over the past 25 years almost every country
in Africa, for example, has either produced or received refugees.
Generations of people in Africa, the Middle East and Asia have known
no other life than a refugee camp. Denied education, children lose
their hope in the future. Adults lose their roles, their skills
and their dignity. Communities become dependent and cultures are
atrophied. Lost generations linger in legal, social and political
limbo, often ignored by the international community. When not ignored,
the lives of refugees risk distortion in the media.
The history of refugees over these past 25 years is marked at mid-point
by the decisive events of 1989, the collapse of the Berlin Wall
and the end of the Cold War. In the 80s and before, those who fled
communist regimes received most attention. Almost two million Indochinese,
for example, were resettled in over 30 countries, among them many
came to Australia.
In 1990, a moment in time when contemporary world history changed
dramatically, I was moved to Rome. During the 1990s the agency that
I was directing was engaged deeply with an immense range of peoples
in crisis. Of course we continued our work with the Cambodians,
Burmese, Tamils from Sri Lanka, Afghans and the Bhutanese in Nepal.
But a lot of my time was spent in Africa. In the Horn of Africa,
I worked with the Eritreans and Tigrayans, and when the fortunes
of war changed, with the Amharic speaking Ethiopians; also with
Somalis and with the Sudanese who are displaced into Chad, Congo,
Uganda, Kenya, Egypt and Ethiopia because of a conflict over pasture
land, the waters of the Nile, oil and Shariah law. We worked with
the Mozambicans who were in Malawi, Tanzania, Zimbabwe and South
Africa, and with Angolans, with Liberians, with Congolese, Rwandans
In Latin America our engagements were with El Salvador, but after
the peace agreement and their return home, we turned our efforts
to the Guatemalans in Mexico, then to the Colombians, and the Haitians
in the Dominican Republic.
Of course the Balkans and the terrible conflict in Bosnia claimed
our attention. Our team was in Sarajevo throughout the conflict
of the 90s, but also in Serbia, Montenegro, Macedonia, Albania,
Kosovo and Croatia.
Through all this time in the United States and in Europe, as here
in Australia, the latest conflicts were reflected in the faces and
identities of the latest arrivals. The universal geography of displacement
finds its mirror in the immigration and detention centres of every
city in the world that has an international airport.
Why do refugees leave home? In classic migration theory, three
sets of factors influence human movement: Push, Pull and Networks.
Multiple factors are at play when a person chooses to leave home.
Studies have revealed that the top ten reasons for asylum seekers
coming to Australia are ‘push’ factors. That is, they
were forced to leave. But before examining or seeking global explanations,
let me try to paint the scenario of one conflict that created mass
displacement of people.
In a few weeks, in Holy Week to be precise, we will commemorate
10 years since the Rwandan genocide began. It began in early April
with the killing of President Habiyarimana, and then with the assassination
of a group of people at Centre Christus, the Jesuit retreat centre
in Kigali, on 6th April 1994, among them three Jesuits, one of them
the director of the local JRS program. The world was shocked by
the genocide that raged, taking over 800,000 lives in a few months,
but it was also paralysed. It was portrayed as ethnic conflict,
as if that truth was also an answer or an explanation.
Prising open the layers of Rwandan society, one can find some factors
that help us, if not to accept, at least to begin to understand.
Rwanda’s population, 3 million in the 60s, had risen to almost
8 million in 1994 and its density was among the highest in Sub-Saharan
Africa. The new experience of nationalism in Africa rigidified the
national borders and made the natural nomadism of previous centuries
impossible. By the mid eighties the family farming plots had been
divided up as much as seemed possible, leaving second, third and
fourth sons without an income and without a future. At about this
point in time the international market for Rwanda’s principle
commodity, coffee, collapsed to a half of its former value. Another
factor was the growing scourge of HIV/AIDS which left many young
people without fathers and the direction of their parents. Since
independence in the sixties, the Belgians had intensified their
input into education for the Hutu population, therefore many boys
and, for Africa, a high proportion of girls, had the opportunity
for secondary school education. So there was a significant population
of young people whose hopes and expectations had been raised by
their schooling, but who were now uprooted, instead they were left
landless, jobless and futureless.
At that time the President of the country was a Hutu, but under
intense international pressure, he was about to sign into law the
Arusha Agreement to allow a more democratic process in the country,
with the consequent risk that he would lose power. In the attacks
of April 1994 that precipitated the genocide, extremist Hutus first
targeted moderate Hutus and any other moderate figure, whatever
their ethnicity. Then, seeking by all means to retain power, they
exploited this discontented mass of young people, using radio stations
to send them to the hills with a poisoned message of ethnic hatred.
Ethnicity and discontent, bred from poverty, were exploited by individuals
for corrupt reasons.
‘It is not power that corrupts, but fear”, Aung San
Suu Kyi tells us in a comment learned from her own experience. “Fear
of losing power corrupts those who wield it and fear of the scourge
of power corrupts those who are subject to it.”
Could the international community have done something to stop
the Rwanda genocide? It takes an agency like Caritas, which is on
the ground in all these places to alert us to such situations. Or
it takes a university, which specialises in studying society and
human problems. But could powerful nations have done something?
General Dellaire, the Canadian who commanded the tiny UN peace keeping
force on the ground in Kigali at that time, believes if his mandate
was changed, he could have intervened early. But remember, April
1994 was but a few months after the Black Hawk Down incident, when
15 US servicemen had been dragged through the streets of Mogadishu,
Somalia in humiliating view of the CNN cameras. Immediately the
US began to withdraw. Their withdrawal, completed in March 1994,
days before the Rwandan genocide began, was accompanied by US horror
at humanitarian intervention and Presidential commitments not to
send US troops abroad again in an international force unless they
were under direct US command.
This Rwandan vignette shows the complexity of one situation, where
there has been remarkable recovery and healing. Yet, without wishing
to depress you, it is important to indicate that the countries around
Rwanda remain in crisis: Uganda to the north, where about 1 million
people are internally displaced; Congo to the west where, according
to a longitudinal study over the past 4 years by International Rescue
Committee, some three million people have died over the past ten
years because of conflict or conflict induced disease and starvation.
In Burundi to the south, hundreds of thousands remain internally
displaced, and similar numbers are refugees in Tanzania. Three hundred
thousand people of Burundi have died in conflict since 1993, including
a few weeks ago, the Apostolic Nuncio, the Pope’s ambassador
James Wolfensohn, who heads the World Bank, was interviewed recently
in preparation for a visit to Australia. If a Martian were to land
here, he was quoted as saying, it would report home that this planet
is crazy. A minority on the planet live for today and do not see
the majority of poor. The developed countries of the world spend
immense amounts on arms but only a fraction on aid. The poverty
and despair of many of the 5 billion people in the developing world
only help fuel terrorism and extremism.
"I personally feel the world is out of balance," he
is quoted as saying. "The way the world is dealing with problems
of poverty and peace seem to be disconnected." Military spending
worldwide is now probably $US1000 billion ($1315 billion), and spending
on subsidies or tariffs to protect farmers in the developed world
is about $US300 billion. In comparison, wealthy countries offer
no more than $US50-$US60 billion in aid to developing countries
while blocking most of their agricultural exports – one of
the few opportunities these countries have to haul themselves out
“There are 5 billion people in the developing world, 3 billion
earning under $US2 a day, and 1.2 billion earning under $1 a day…If
you can't give them hope, which comes from getting a job or doing
something productive, giving them their self-respect, these people
become the basis on which terrorists or renegades or advocacy groups
can flourish. It's an essentially unstable situation …
"… If you cannot deal with the question of hope, there
is no way that with military expenditure you can have peace. I think
you could spend $US2 trillion on military expenditure, but if you
do nothing about poverty and development you're not going to have
Asked about Australia's treatment of boatpeople, Wolfensohn remarked,
"I would have thought that if Australia has an issue now, that
30 years from now it (will have) a bigger issue to face…A
longer-term strategy for Australia and for all the developed countries
in the world is going to be critical."
I am convinced that the underlying causes of the forced displacement
of people today are found in the imbalance in the distribution of
the world’s resources and the consequent conflicts that spring
from this imbalance. The building blocks to peace will be found
in addressing these causes. Australian immigration advocate, Professor
Jerzy Zubrzycki wrote recently: “Basically, the challenge
to Australia will be how to respond to massive gaps in world income,
resulting in economic pressure that forces migration out of poor
areas within nation states and in international migration movements”.
He goes on to plead: “There will be no scope for a Pacific
Solution II and no adequate resources for the infamous use of naval
force in Operation Relex. The seeking of refuge will not only be
a basic matter of international peace and security, it will also
be a massive challenge and call for leadership at all levels of
Just last week, Cardinal Murphy-O’Connor also addressed this
point in a summit on globalisation in Britain. He said poverty is
as big a scourge as terrorism. He claimed that he does not want
to belittle the truth that terrorism is more dangerous today than
it has ever been. But he questioned whether blaming “failed
states” for allowing terrorism to flourish was adequate. “States
fail”, he says, “when they are incapable of lifting
people out of poverty, or when they pay insufficient heed to the
importance of ensuring that wealth is adequately distributed so
that the whole of the population can flourish; or, indeed, when
they fail to take seriously the obligation to ensure that wealth
is not created for the few and at the expense of many.” He
concludes his address in a stirring way:
“Our greatest challenge at the beginning of the 21st century
is poverty. Our greatest debt is the debt to our brothers and sisters
in the poorest parts of the world. Our greatest hope is our common
humanity and solidarity. And our greatest strength is our commitment
to work together. I would like to think we can all take that message
back to our communities, our institutions and our Governments…”
If, as Cardinal Murphy O’Connor claims, the greatest threat
to world today is poverty not terrorism, why do we not have a war
on poverty rather than war on terror?
The Polish sociologist, Zygmunt Bauman has written yet another
stimulating book reflecting on modern society. He goes further in
his analysis than simply naming poverty as a cause, he examines
the inequity that modernity requires. His book is called ‘Wasted
Lives, Modernity and its Outcasts’, in which he examines the
production of ‘superfluous’ populations of migrants,
refugees and other outcasts, the inevitable outcome of modernisation.
Formerly, he claims, the large parts of the world that were wholly
or partly unaffected by modernisation were able to absorb the excess
of population of developed countries. Global solutions were sought,
and temporarily found, to local problems. Convicts and unemployed
were sent to Australia, and the Americas, for example, with disastrous
consequences for the indigenous societies. Now, as modernisation
reaches every corner of the globe, this ‘redundant population’
is produced everywhere, and all locations have to bear the consequences
of the triumph of modernity. Now we have to seek local solutions
to globally produced problems. As a result of the spread of modernity,
growing numbers of human beings are deprived of adequate means of
survival and the planet appears to be running out of places to put
them. Hence the new anxieties about immigrants and the growing role
of diffuse security fears in the political agenda.
Bauman also comments on how the forces of globalisation strip governments
of their sovereign prerogatives. People see the local store, the
local bank and post office disappear from their neighbourhood, even
from the control of the national economy. When the real culprit
may be the micro chip, governments can attempt to demonstrate that
they are asserting their sovereignty by flexing their muscles and
firing salvos at selected targets, such as petty crime and asylum
Why does our government keep children locked away in detention
centres and on remote Pacific islands? It now claims that this punishment
of a few will save others, that it will deter them from seeking
to come to this country. It may. It may work for a few more months.
But in no way does this approach address the fundamental problems
that confront our world. It is an egregious distraction from the
real problems and it is a miserable exploitation of people as means
to an end.
At Christmas I was startled to receive a letter from Senator Amanda
Vanstone since an organisation, A Just Australia, of which I am
one of many patrons, sought to find a resolution to the hunger strike
of the people on Nauru. She wrote to me: “I ask you to imagine
how you would feel if one of the strikers was a loved one of yours.
Persuading them to end their dangerous course of action would have
to be the first priority.” I replied to her: “I am heartened
that you would ask me to imagine how I might feel if one of the
strikers were a loved one of mine. Could I urge upon you the same
test as you now take up this demanding portfolio of immigration.
Given that the majority of boatpeople who have arrived in Australian
waters in recent years have been proved to be refugees, should we
not design policies which take as their starting point your imagination
Indeed it is possible. John Menadue, former head of the Department
of Immigration, wrote: “The most meaningful job of my life
was as Head of the Department of Immigration and Ethnic Affairs….I
knew that I was part of nation-building. I also learned, at that
time, that it is possible to manage a humanitarian program for 100,000
Indo-Chinese refugees who came to Australia, while at the same time
protecting our borders.”
“We make progress”, said Meister Eckhart, the 13th
century German Dominican mystic, “by stopping.” It is
good to stop and consider just how we can go forward. In the mid-sixties,
a prophetic Latin American, Helder Camara, made this appeal on the
floor of the Second Vatican Council:
Shall we really spend our whole time on discussing internal
problems of the Church while two thirds of the world population
are starving to death? What is our message in view of the question
of underdevelopment? Will the Council express its concern for the
great problems of mankind? Is the shortage of priests Latin America’s
biggest problem? No! The biggest problem is underdevelopment.
The Council’s response, calling the Church not just to look
inwards at itself, but to be of service to the world, was also prophetic
and it is still valid:
The joys and hopes, the griefs and anxieties of the people
of this age, especially those who are poor or in any way afflicted,
these are the joys and hopes, the griefs and the anxieties of the
followers of Christ. Indeed, nothing genuinely human fails to raise
an echo in their hearts.
Out of that impulse many organisations were begun, among them our
own Australian Caritas which is indeed now 40 years old.
That Council was not a dress rehearsal. Life is not a dress rehearsal.
But Lent gives us time to reflect. And you students at university
have the opportunity to test values, to enquire into what is right,
to acquire discipline in your thinking, and to learn how to build
peace and to bring hope.
“Each of us carries the responsibility of upholding the
principles of justice and common decency – it falls on …
ordinary people…It is the cumulative effect of their sustained
effort and steady endurance which will change a nation where reason
and conscience are warped by fear into one where legal rules exist
to promote our desire for harmony and justice”.
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