The processes of social healing, reconciliation and peace require a long-term commitment. It is a patient work of searching – with compassion – for truth and justice, honouring the memory of the victims and opening, step by step, to a common hope, stronger than revenge.
True reconciliation is achieved proactively, by forming a new society, a society based on service to others, rather than the desire to dominate; a society based on sharing what one has with others, rather than the selfish scramble by each for as much wealth as possible; a society in which the value of being together as human beings is ultimately more important than any lesser group, whether it be family, nation, race or culture. Working to overcome our divisions without losing our identity as individuals presumes that a basic sense of belonging is present in everyone.
Furthermore, true reconciliation does not shy away from conflict, but is achieved in conflict, overcoming it through dialogue and transparent, sincere and patient negotiation. loving an oppressor does not mean allowing him to keep oppressing us, or letting him think that what he does is acceptable. On the contrary, true love for an oppressor means seeking ways to make him cease his oppression; it means stripping him of a power that he does not know how to use, and that diminishes his own humanity and that of others.
Forgiveness does not entail allowing oppressors to keep trampling on their own dignity and that of others, or letting criminals continue their wrongdoing. All this, however, with the approach of non-violence, not hatred and revenge. Forgiving does not mean forgetting, but choosing not to yield to the same destructive force that caused us so much suffering. By breaking the vicious cycle of violence, we stop the advance of the forces of destruction. When there have been injustices on both sides, it must be clearly recognised that they may not have been as serious or comparable. Violence perpetrated by the state, using its structures and power, is not on the same level as that perpetrated by particular groups.
There is an “architecture” of peace, to which different institutions of society contribute, each according to its own area of expertise, but there is also an “art” of peace that involves us all. It is always helpful to incorporate into our peace processes the experience of those sectors that have often been overlooked, so that communities themselves can influence the development of a collective memory. To make that happen, we are called to persevere in the struggle to promote a ‘culture of encounter’. This requires us to place at the centre of all political, social and economic activity the human person, who enjoys the highest dignity, and respect for the common good. The option for the poor should lead us to friendship with the poor, recalling that inequality and the lack of integral human development do not allow peace to be generated.
Finally, the chapter reflects on war and the death penalty. Given the presence of nuclear, chemical and biological weapons and the enormous and growing possibilities offered by new technologies, war has been given an uncontrollable destructive power and we can therefore no longer think of war as a solution. Today it is no longer possible to think of a ‘just war’, because the risks will always be greater than the hypothetical usefulness attributed to it. And if we take into consideration the main threats to peace and security (e.g. terrorism, asymmetrical conflicts, cyber security, environmental problems, poverty), the inadequacy of nuclear deterrence to respond effectively to these challenges becomes clear. The ultimate goal of the total elimination of nuclear weapons becomes both a challenge and a moral and humanitarian imperative.
In today’s world, there are no longer just isolated outbreaks of war in one country or another; instead, we are experiencing a “world war fought piecemeal”, since the destinies of countries are so closely interconnected.
The death penalty is morally inadequate and no longer necessary on a penal level; today it has become inadmissible. Fear and resentment easily lead to a vindictive view of punishment, instead of seeing it as part of a process of healing and social reintegration. Not even the murderer loses his personal dignity, and God Himself guarantees it. The firm rejection of the death penalty shows the extent to which it is possible to recognise the inalienable dignity of every human being and to accept that they have a place in this world.