number 5, december 9, 1998

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Making peace possible

Do the possible, and don’t be overwhelmed by what is seemingly impossible.

Nine cities around the world have done just that to find creative ways in overcoming violence. Representatives at the assembly are showcasing what they have done, to inspire others to deal with violence which has become a daily feature of life.

Inspiring and challenging stories from local peace-building initiatives in a WCC-inspired campaign were shared in a "Peace to the City" Padare yesterday.

In 1994, the WCC central committee, meeting in Johannesburg, South Africa, approved the decision to establish a Program to Overcome Violence (POV). Out of it grew the Peace to the City Campaign.

The focus of the campaign was not on violence in the cities but on imaginative efforts to overcome violence through cross-community work to build bridges between, and reconcile, communities drawn into conflict by violence.

The goals were "building a culture of peace through practical means to overcome violence at different levels of society, encouraging the churches to play a leading role in using non-violent means such as prevention, mediation, intervention and education appropriate to their particular contexts", according to a central committee mandate.

The campaign concentrated on seven cities where both destructive and constructive forces are at play — Rio de Janeiro, Brazil; Belfast, Northern Ireland; Boston, USA; Colombo, Sri Lanka; Durban, South Africa; Kingston, Jamaica; and Suva, Fiji.

These cities are symbolic of efforts to overcome violence — urban, ethnic, economic, political, inter-religious — all over the world.

Bethlehem, in Palestine, and Tuzla, in Bosnia, have also joined the campaign, bringing examples of peace-building from the Middle East and Eastern Europe.

Members of the reference committee, an advisory group to the POV which is moderated by Dr Janice Love from the United States, speak of "a powerful response" to the Peace in the City campaign in the short timespan since it was launched.

"The first most critical step is to have the commitment. If the commitment is there, the resources will follow," says Dr Hizkias Assefa (Ethiopian Orthodox Church, Kenya), a member of the committee. "This is what are we trying to do in the campaign videos and books — to show cases of what people were able to do with their own resources.

"The POV is really meant to challenge the churches, to learn from the examples of these cities struggling with violence, to see what resources are available in their own community, to mobilise and take action on these issues."

Dr Rubem Cesar Fernandes, another committee member, adds, "The issue of violence is becoming a central concern all around world. It’s no longer a marginal issue where some countries are involved in war and others in peace, some in civil war and others in harmony, some people involved in crime while others are good citizens. Even countries which have never experienced an internal war like Brazil find themselves shaken by daily violence."

Such daily violence at the local, national, and international level continues to be the focus of the POV.

Says Dr Assefa of the stories from the cities: "This truly is a story of realised hope."

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Read other articles in this issue:

Help create fair world -- Mugabe
Evangelicals liken WCC to a polygamist husband
They work for peace in cities
Churches should defend the voiceless
Received by the President
Human chain to cancel debt
Indian delegates retrace footsteps of St Thomas
Making peace possible
Mugabe's liberty bell cracked

8th Assembly and 50th Anniversary

copyright 1998 World Council of Churches. Remarks to webeditor