Mennonites work for peace and change in war-torn Colombia

By staff writers
November 5, 2007

Joining a peace event in Colombia, a Mennonite pastor has warned that, in a nation torn by conflict and violence, peace cannot be reached by a greater investment in the military - but through the action of citizens to build alternatives.

Speaking through a megaphone as part of a recent event called Pan y Paz, or Bread and Peace, Pastor Antonio Herrerasaid declared, “[peace] is reached through more education, health care, and more employment for all Colombians.”

He said that identifying the factors that contribute to the armed conflict is not enough. “As long as there are empty stomachs, there will always be violence in our country,” he said. “Peace is not obtained through more bullets; with more bread we can reach peace.”

The event was designed to mark the United Nations day of international peace, nonviolence and ceasefire. Churches throughout Colombia held Bread and Peace events, asking people to consider the link between peace and hunger, poverty and economic injustice.

In 45 celebrations throughout the country, the message of bread and peace was shared in neighborhoods, parks, plazas, universities and street corners.

Speakers called people to commit to a lifestyle embracing principles of nonviolence, and highlighted the need for economic justice as the key to a lasting peace in Colombia.

In the capital, Bogotá, people took to the streets and plazas of their neighborhoods in 15 different Bread and Peace events. Teusaquillo Mennonite Church, for instance, organized an ecumenical march, stopping at specific "stations" along the way which used art, theater and song to highlight the suffering and hope of the Colombian people.

Representatives from Mencoldes, the development organization of the Colombian Mennonite Church, wore large, colorful boards calling attention to hunger and agriculture issues in Colombia.

The march ended in a main plaza, where representatives from different churches led a liturgy, followed by an address by a representative of the UN and the sharing of 3,000 small bread loaves with the people in and around the plaza.

In Itagüe, as many as 4,000 people took part in an event that included music, high school students’ presentations on peace themes, dance, poetry and the sharing of bread and grapes.

Through the event, said pastor Jorge Gonzales, people see “the Christian church being more active in the reality of the country and more proactive in the search for solutions.”

Colombian Mennonite churches began celebrating Bread and Peace events in 2002, and the event has grown each year. As local churches work together to plan activities for Pan y Paz in their communities, Bread and Peace has become more ecumenical.

Some 20 denominations were represented in this year’s celebration, the three Anabaptist denominations, the Catholic Church and numerous other Protestant and evangelical denominations.

With kind acknowledgements to Shalom Weibe of Mennonite Central Committee

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