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Issue Date:  October 19, 2007

Peace takes hard work and risk

Peacemaking, as a word and an activity, suffers a fate similar to love. It has been dulled by overuse and drained of power by sentimentality and low expectations.

We pray for peace, we sing about it, we may even occasionally march in protest for the cause of it, but we rarely really expect it to happen.

And then comes news that South Korea’s president, Roh Moo-hyun has been meeting with North Korean officials, including the reclusive Kim Jong-il, and has come away with plans for a new level of cooperation between the two governments. At the same time, North Korea, a year after conducting its first nuclear test, signed an agreement to disable all its nuclear facilities by year’s end.

What all of this means, and how far it will go toward advancing North and South Korea toward the still-distant goal of reunification will only be known in time. But the lesson is one of persistence, of negotiating for mutual benefit and of being willing to attend to myriad behind-the-scenes details that allow the glimmers of hope to poke through the prevailing gloom.

Peacemaking, like loving, is mostly a matter of acting and risking. Sometimes the risks seem overwhelming, as in the case of the Buddhist monks-led marches in Burma, now called Myanmar, against the brutal military dictatorship. Marching for peace and democracy there is entirely stripped of sentimentality. It can mean arrest and detention. It can mean death.

And sometimes the act required is a decision to not go to war, a tack illustrated in the fascinating story of Heather Roberson and her reporting from Macedonia told in this week’s Paths to Peace special section.

How did Macedonia avoid war? It wasn’t luck, said Roberson. “What you see in Macedonia’s story is a combination of Macedonia and international leaders all making conscious decisions and taking risks to prevent war. And you see them doing it on an ongoing basis.” A great story, but not one that gained near the attention as the war story occurring at the time in neighboring Croatia and Bosnia.

Roberson’s tale is just one of many in the issue demonstrating that paths to peace are fashioned by countless, endless footsteps that are unspectacular but determined and deliberate. Only occasionally along the way do we get a quick glimpse of the possibilities that lie ahead.

Peace, like love, rarely is lived along a straight line or in uncomplicated circumstances. It is rarely achieved without compromise. Just as love rarely grows from hate, real peace almost never results from war. It doesn’t occur, either, without attention to matters of justice and forgiveness, of tolerance and the ability to see the other’s side of things. And it often doesn’t happen until enough people raise their expectations and work for it -- and demand it.

National Catholic Reporter, October 19, 2007

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