Mennonites and other churches have key role in Colombian peace process

By agency reporter
November 3, 2012

While peace talks are underway between the Colombian government and FARC rebels (Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia) in Norway, Dr Ricardo Esquivia of the Mennonite Church in Colombia affirmed that “creativity and audacity to advocate for justice in a nonviolent way” is essential at this time.

Speaking at the reference group of the Programme of Ecumenical Accompaniment in Colombia (PEAC) 29 and 31 October 2012 in Bogota, he rejected the use of violence.

“There are groups that get a lot of attention to their causes by the use of violent ways. We reject that. We spread seeds of justice and want to cherish them as they grow,” he said.

Esquivia along with the Mennonite Church in Montes de Maria is one of the founders of the Programme of Ecumenical Accompaniment in Colombia (PEAC).

In his presentation he added that one challenge for the PEAC is to bring “development, advocacy and conflict resolution” together.

The PEAC is a programme implemented by the Latin American Council of Churches (CLAI) with support from the World Council of Churches (WCC) and several other regional and international ecumenical bodies.

The PEAC initiative aims to support communities affected by the Colombian conflict between government and the FARC rebels which has lasted for almost five decades, costing thousands of lives and the displacement of millions of people.

Dr Marcelo Caruso, an academic, noted that dialogue between the Colombian government and the rebels brings the peace process to another level. Given the challenges in the peace process, the PEAC programme, he said, will be able to receive its first ecumenical accompaniers only in coming months.

The ecumenical accompaniers will spend approximately three months in communities affected by human rights violations and security threats.

National coordinator for the PEAC, and human rights advocate, Blanca Echeverry pointed out the lack of state protection for victims of armed conflict in several areas, which she said was a key factor to inspire the PEAC programme.

“We want to help strengthen and build the capacity of organisations and communities in the affected areas in Colombia, strengthening their social participation and organisation, said Echeverry. She went on to stress that PEAC aims to advocate for people’s “economic, social, political, cultural, environmental and territorial rights”.

The Rev Carlos Emilio Ham, the WCC’s programme executive for Diakonia, and Latin America and the Caribbean, introduced the WCC’s 10th Assembly theme “God of life, lead us to justice and peace”. He stressed the relevance of the theme for objectives of the PEAC programme.

“On 30 October next year, we will be celebrating the opening of our assembly. Let us hope that initiatives like the PEAC can raise the issues of justice and peace among our member churches worldwide,” said Dr Ham.

The PEAC programme is inspired by the WCC’s programme Ecumenical Accompaniment in Palestine and Israel. While PEAC is implemented by CLAI, the programme has support from the ACT Alliance, the United Church of Canada, the Lutheran World Federation, the World Communion of Reformed Churches, the World Student Christian Federation, the Regional Ecumenical Advisory and Service Centre (CREAS), Church World Service, the United Church of Canada, Kairos Canada and the Methodist Church of Britain.

On 31 October, members of PEAC’s international reference group travelled to the region of Montes de María and met with local authorities and communities. The town of San Onofre will be the first to receive accompaniers in December 2012.


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