Catholic Bishops Write to United Nations, Africa Union

Nov 20, 2004 05:50 AM EST

The Tanzanian Episcopal Conference (TEC) has prepared a suggestion on how to achieve peace in Africa's Great Lakes Region (GLR) for submission to a two-day international conference that opened in the capital Dar es Salaam on Friday, November 19, 2004.

Drawing from their 10-year apostolate among the region's refugees, the TEC called for "respect for the rights and dignity of all, men and women, citizen or refugee, regardless of ethnic or regional origins or socio-economic status," and appealed for "dialogue, negotiation, and mutually beneficial compromise rather than armed conflict as the way to resolve disputes."

More than 30 heads of state are expected at the International Conference on Peace, Security and Development in the Great Lakes Region, conducted under the aegis of the United Nations and the African Union.

Leaders from the Great Lakes Region, the Horn of Africa, East Africa, the Southern African Development Community (SADC) member countries and other invited guests started arriving in the city on Thursday.

Over the past ten years, the TEC has been serving the pastoral needs of refugee communities from Burundi, the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), and Rwanda. They have also advocated on their behalf and acted as a liaison between them and the Catholic Church of Burundi via the Joint Commission for Refugees (JCR) established between the TEC and its counterpart, the Burundi Episcopal Conference.

"Resist the temptation to seek personal advancement at the expense of others, and instead join hands with our brothers and sisters to build nations where all share in the basic necessities of security, health, education, and economic development," they said in their submission entitled The Way Forward to Peace and Security, Good Governance and Development in The Great Lakes Region and dated November 12, 2004.

The submission also incorporates the perspective from the refugee community, who besides commenting on the current state of affairs also suggest the way forward to peace.

The TEC also gives the a perspective from the Catholic Church, emphasising the God-given dignity of every human person, and urging local communities to "treat the alien who resides with you no differently than the natives born among you."

The bishops urged forgiveness and reconciliation as a way to peace.

"As the Bishops of the GLR noted in their statement about ethnicity quoted above, we too note that the Church itself is composed of real people who themselves are subject to the same influences of ethnic tensions and violence as other members of society," they acknowledged.

Noting that "the Church's talk of reconciliation and of dealing with a violence-burdened past and present hence takes place not from a position of a passer-by, of a supra-historical observatory, but from a position of consciously being a contemporary", the TEC saw "the need for a constant self-critical examination of our activities is one of the essential lessons we can learn here."