by Catherine Gorman, Theology Programme Communications Coordinator
Easter – a time to build peace
Easter has arrived. It is the high point of the Church’s year and we are filled with joy at the resurrection of Christ. Each year I think back to what it must have been like for the disciples on that very first Easter. Hearing that the tomb was empty, running there and finding that it was. Their minds must have been racing, desperately wondering what had happened to Jesus’ body. What did all this mean? But then, as we hear in the gospel, John entered the tomb, “he saw and he believed”. He opened his heart to the mystery and wonder of God and was given a new understanding.
That is our challenge, too, each Easter – to open ourselves up to the resurrection, to believe in the amazing transformative power of God’s love, and to understand the world through this lens. For God’s love is greater even than death and has the power to bring hope out of the greatest despair.
As Pope Francis said last Easter, in his Urbi et Orbi message: “Let us be renewed by God’s mercy, let us be loved by Jesus, let us enable the power of his love to transform our lives too; and let us become agents of this mercy, channels through which God can water the earth, protect all creation and make justice and peace flourish.”
This call to be agents of mercy is something that extends to all our lives. How do we build up peace in our own homes, community, society and world? This question took on a new significance for me on a recent visit to Sri Lanka, a country that was racked by conflict for almost 30 years.
Civil war in Sri Lanka
The civil war devastated the country and tore families apart. Figures are contested but 40-75,000 civilians were killed in the last stages of the war and 320,000 survivors were interned in refugee camps.
One man, Kanapathipillai, spoke to me of his experiences of being displaced during the conflict:
“Peace talks would happen, then the war would start up again. Two or three times this happened. Several times we had to leave the village and go to camps because of the conflict. In 2006 to 2007 the shelling was really heavy. I escaped with my family and started to walk to the refugee camp. We stayed there until the government asked us to resettle in our village. When we returned, we had lost everything. Everything was damaged by the shelling.”
The civil war came to an end in 2009, but five years on, the government still refuses to address the underlying problems that caused the conflict, and, in the words of its own report, “violence, suspicion and a sense of discrimination are still prevalent in social and political life.”
In fact one person I met went so far as to say: “We don’t have peace here. We have an absence of conflict.”
Building peace between Sinhalese and Tamil communities
But CAFOD’s local partner, Caritas Sri Lanka, is helping people on both sides to take the steps required for real peace. They set up an exchange programme for Sinhalese and Tamil communities to meet and spend time together. The people were afraid to begin with, but the exchange helped them to understand each other better. Sujatha, one of the women who took part, explained to me:
“We were frightened. It was scary that Tamils were coming to our village. We didn’t know if they would attack us. But when we met, we realised that they were just people. We were living with a lot of prejudices, but this gave us a new understanding. We are poor, they are poor. We do farming, they do farming.”
Thavaraja, a 22-year-old Tamil from Pavatkodichchenai village in the east of Sri Lanka, told me how he found the experience:
“The 30 years of war created a big distance. Before we went into the village we were really afraid, because they are Sinhalese and we are Tamils. While we were travelling, we had fear in our minds. But when we got down from the bus, the fear reduced in half. While we were staying with them, the fear disappeared. Their way of welcoming us helped us to get rid of the fear. After three days it was difficult to say goodbye. We were very sorry to leave. A relationship was built – we still have a good relationship.”
It was truly moving listening to both Tamils and Sinhalese talking about how they had overcome their fear of each other and formed new bonds.
Easter is a time to celebrate new life, new beginnings, and to recognise that we too can start afresh. It is an invitation to unlock the potential that has lain buried within us and to help others to do the same. It is a time to dig deep and trust in God, knowing that nothing is impossible to the one who gives us life and has triumphed over death.
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Catherine’s blog was published in The Catholic Times.