When Tanenbaum Peacemaker in Action, Jose “Chencho” Alas returned from “Mercy for Peace and Reconciliation,” a historic symposium in Rome organized by KAICIID and the Pontifical Council, he reflected on how our divided nation can heal and proclaimed, “We must build a large alliance of freedom and peace fighters.”
Religious leaders and religiously motivated leaders who attended the November symposium represented diverse religions and nations including Syria, represented by Tanenbaum Peacemaker Hind Kabawat, Egypt, Lebanon, Saudi Arabia, Argentina, Austria, Spain, and the U.S. among others. This was an especially poignant experience for Salvadoran Chencho, a former Catholic Priest and lifelong advocate for the poor, whose own interactions with faith communities and leaders, given the geographical bounds of his work, are often restricted to those solely within Christianity. In Rome, Chencho found commonality and shared visions with fellow peacebuilders and religious leaders of the Buddhist, Hindu and Muslim traditions.
Pope Francis spoke eloquently about having a heart for the other as the basis for reconciliation, Chencho and a selected few were asked to provide testimonials of their own work and lives. Chencho spoke of his life’s work to advance the rights of and empower Salvadoran peasants. His unwavering dedication – despite nearly dying for his convictions in the service of others – was clear to those in attendance. When asked what he took from the reflections by his fellow religious leaders on the topics of mercy, peace and reconciliation, Chencho beautifully synthesized his love for both ecology and faith:
At the symposium, listening carefully to the reflections, full of genuine spirit by participants of many different religions, I found a way to describe mercy and reconciliation in an easy-to-explain way. As I’ve loved trees since childhood, the following image came to mind: Mercy is the sap that through the roots nourishes the tree’s trunk, its branches, leaves, flowers, and fruit. In religion, mercy is that sap, that living material and spiritual element that provides unity in our diversity, just as in the tree we see that the roots are not the trunk, or the branches, or the fruit, but all the elements enjoy the same life. We can be Muslim, Jewish, Christian, Catholic, and so on, but if we share mercy we live the unity the human family needs to be in peace.
When asked how these lessons from Rome could be applied to healing divided nations today, Chencho stated:
…we, members of different religions shall be united by values and principals based in justice and solidarity to confront any form of oppression, discrimination, or denial of freedom of faith. We must build a large alliance of freedom and peace fighters.
In addendum to Chencho’s powerful words, together we can declare “…we, as a nation, members of different religions, races, ethnicities and gender shall be united by values and principals based in justice and solidarity to confront any form of oppression, discrimination, or denial of freedom of faith.”
As our shared values unite us, we take the steps needed to heal divided communities, one person at a time.
By Ritu Mukherjee
Evaluation Program Assistant
To learn more about Chencho’s work in El Salvador please purchase a copy of his Land, Liberation, and Death Squads published by Wipf and Stock Publishers by sending a message to [email protected] or calling 541-344-1528.
Sixty percent (60%) of the income is for the Foundation for Sustainability and Peacemaking in Mesoamerica (discover-peace.org).