On November 2nd I was invited to participate in the Latvian National Prayer Breakfast. This year's topic was “Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called sons of God”. It was an impressive and powerful event, in which politicians and Members of Parliament shared their thoughts about the importance of peace and reconciliation.
Following the Prayer Breakfast, an international discussion was organized on “Peace as a virtue and the process of forming peace in contemporary society”. Speakers included: Inese Libina-Egner, Deputy of the Saeima and Legal advisor to the President, Ilmars Latkovskis and Inga Bite, both Deputies of the Saeima, Pavil Brvers, Bishop of Evangelical Lutheran Church of Latvia, Miervaldis Krotovs: Chairman of Talsi Regional Municipality, Inga Berzina, Chairman of Kuldiga City Council and Joseph Dustin, founder of organization “Streams of Life” in Latvia and Lithuania. The discussion was moderated by Inese Libina, Deputy of the Saeima.
I felt privileged to be able to participate in the Latvian Prayer Breakfast and to be invited to bring my contribution at the forum on “Peace as a Virtue and the Process of Forming Peace in contemporary Society”. where I spoke about "the Process of Developing Peace in Europe"
Please read here my message
The Process of Forming Peace in Europe
It is for me an honor and a pleasure to participate at the Latvian National Prayer Breakfast and the discussion about “Peace making process and the value of peace in the world”. First of all I would like to congratulate the organizers and especially Mrs. Inese Slesere for the important events today, but also for the theme of discussion: “Peace Making Process and the value of peace in the world”.
For me, as a follower of Jesus, the strive for peace and reconciliation is one of the basic motivations behind the activities I do for ECPM. Through Jesus’ sacrifice we are forgiven and reconciled with God. This enables Christians to show the power of humbleness, peace and reconciliation in order to practically demonstrate the power of the Christian faith. Jesus wants us to be peacemakers. In the Beatitudes He says: “Blessed are the peacemakers for they will be called sons of God”. For God forgave us and provided us peace, therefore we are called to do the same in order to be called sons of God. Therefore we wrote in our basic program of the ECPM that “humility, repentance, patience and forgiveness are not only political but also personal values, essential in the process of replacing conflict by common understanding. It means to renounce all armaments that are incompatible with the pursuit of just peace.”
Another important foundation for peace is the respect for human dignity. We are all created in the image and likeness of God. This means that we are all equal in front of God: man and woman, rich and poor, people from all different nations and so on. Robert Schuman, one of the founding fathers of the nowadays European Union wrote in his book “Pour l’Europe” that “Christianity teaches equality of the nature of all men, children of the same God, redeemed by the same Christ, without distinction of race, color, class or profession”. Equality creates solidarity. Equality not in the sense that we are all the same, but that we all have the same value before God and as human beings and that therefore we are all brothers and sisters who need to care for each other (see the parable of the sheep and the goats, Math. 25:31-46).
On the other hand, we are also seen as being unique in the eyes of God with unique gifts and talents. This means that we also have to respect the diversity and differences in our communities. This means accepting the reality of these differences but does not automatically mean to give up your own vision, but to respect each other freedoms and opinions. In our basic program we state that the Christian values are the source for the openness for a diverse society. This also means that even in a diverse society people can hold beliefs as ‘the truth’ and communicate these with others. This leads to a concept of diversity in which differences on all fields should be open to debate. The law and good manners provide the space within this debate can take place. In this way differences can be discussed in a fruitful way and as the best way against discrimination. Theologically it is interesting to analyze the conversation of Jesus with the Samaritan woman as described in the Gospel of John chapter 4.
The strive for peace was the basis for the creation of the Coal and Steel Community in Europe. Five years after the ending of World War 2, the French Foreign Minister Robert Schuman did the surprising declaration to propose the creation of a Coal and Steel Community between the arch enemies French and German with the Netherlands, Belgium, Luxemburg and Italy. By putting the coal and steel under a supranational authority, war has become not only unthinkable but also less possible in order to establish an economic community for a broader and deeper community among peoples long divided by bloody conflicts”: Europe as a community of peoples! It was seen as the basis for what is now called the "European Union". As motivation, Robert Schuman wrote: “We are called to bethink ourselves of the Christian basics of Europe by forming a democratic model of governance which through reconciliation develops into a community of peoples in freedom, equality, solidarity and peace which is deeply rooted in the Christian values” Many of these values you can still find in the documents of the European Union and is the basis of the long-lasting peace in West Europe. What is worrying, however, is that the respect for diversity and human dignity is replaced more and more by the focus on individual (autonomic) rights. Focusing on your own rights, on yourself instead of focusing on the other based on humility and love can harden positions within the EU and can become a future threat for peace.
Because peace is not just the absence of war. Peace is the ability to live together with our deepest differences. It means an environment where there is no fear between peoples and nations. Humility, repentance, patience and forgiveness are political as well as personal values. They are essential in the process of replacing conflict by common understanding and reconciliation. A big example is the former president of Macedonia, Boris Trajkovski, a believer who wanted to apply these principles to practice and could solve a dangerous ethnic crisis in his country. After he died in a plane crash, his wife founded the Boris Trajkovski foundation in order to spread his ideas and vision to young leaders via the Youth and International Leadership forums organized every year on the 25th of February, the day her husband died. Boris Trajkovski showed us that reconciliation means to leave your comfort zone and to reach out to the other, to try to understand the other party and to look for a common ground based on human dignity in order to establish peace.
An important project of reconciliation in the Balkans which is worth to mention is the Renewing Our Minds (ROM) Gatherings. In 1999, shortly after the wars in Croatia and in Bosnia & Herzegovina, with the wars spreading to Kosovo and threatening Macedonia, a group of young adults started these annual gatherings. ROM is a two or three weeks transformational program for emerging leaders in the Balkans to learn to embrace each other and to develop long-lasting friendships across religious, national and ethnical divides. It is based on the principles and character of Jesus concentrated on peace and reconciliation, developing a life of service based on loving the neighbor as yourself. It is a program focused on different phases: the Embracing phase where everyone feels welcome, loved and respected, the confrontation phase where the realities of war are discussed ending in a special empathy night where different roles are played, followed by a phase of developing vision and planning.
It is interesting that out of this ROM also other initiatives have been started like an Economic Diplomacy Seminar where emerging political and economic leaders discuss about developing Economic and political relationships and collaborations as a basis for reconciliation and development. On the 27th of November we have a meeting with all the different communities and minorities in the Serbian region of Vojvodina to discuss about the important role and collaboration with each other to develop Serbia and to support them in the accession to the European Union. The discussions are focused on the importance of diversity and the respect of the different communities to each other.
Also in Bosnia I saw good initiatives where Christian and Muslim leaders are more and more working together to promote peace and reconciliation after the destructive wars in the 90s. On the 30st of November we will organize with some former ROM participants a meeting between Bosnian, Croatian and Serbian leaders to discuss about leadership based on the principles of Jesus.
As I said before: to strive for peace is to leave your comfort zone and to try to reach out, to understand each other and to look for common grounds with respecting each other differences and opinions. We are thankful for the fact that the establishment of the European Union has prevented wars and conflicts in West Europe for decades. Also we are grateful for the many fruitful initiatives that emerging leaders have been starting in the Balkans in order to build bridges between different cultures, religions and ethnicities and to give them hope and instruments to construct their future societies.