Form the left, Jan De Volder, Laura Rizzerio and Koen Schoors

Brussells: Olivier and the thirty kilometers for peace

The Pope's invitation during the audience on October 15 is increasingly topical. So the Belgian community organized a meeting on the CL manifesto against the war.
Luciano Porretta

Following the provocation launched by the Pope on October 15, 2022 to the whole movement on the "prophecy of peace," we have been wondering about the actual contribution that we could offer to the "clash" of opinions on the war in Ukraine that has divided the media (and us).

What can we do? Can we offer something useful? Many of us felt useless because we could not stop the war, and so the solution seemed to be not to think about it. Furthermore, in a country like Belgium, where faith is considered an exclusively private and personal matter and Christians are a minority, what use and interest could proposing a public interest have? The first blow to this wall of doubt was delivered by the Apostolic Nuncio of Belgium, Monsignor Franco Coppola, when we proposed a debate here in Brussels. Far from denying these difficulties, he used them to encourage us, proposing that we organize a meeting for not only (a few) Catholics, but to present these concerns of the Pope to representatives of civil society and the academic world who have not taken the ongoing war in Ukraine for granted, and who could bring different contributions on the subject, even different or divergent, but in dialogue with the content of the CL flyer.

Therefore, starting from the esteemed relationship with some of us, three speakers agreed to participate in a round table discussion: Jan De Volder, head of Sant'Egidio in Belgium and professor of History of the Church and conflicts of the 20th century at the Catholic University of Leuven; Koen Schoors, a leading economist at the University of Ghent and specialist in Russian economics and institutions; and Laura Rizzerio, Professor of Philosophy at the University of Namur and coordinator of a research center for dialogue between faith and reason, culture and society, philosophy and theology. The dialogue developed around a few questions: what kind of peace does the human aspire to? Is Pope Francis' position on this issue realistic or naive? What role does education in charity and forgiveness play in building (or even thinking about) peace in Ukraine today?

Many things struck us about this meeting. The speakers were the first "surprise." Three different sensitivities and outlooks led to a surprising convergence on the need for creative efforts to achieve peace (or at least to imagine it). Peace is urgent, both as a deep human need and part of the person's rational being, and because of a sense of realism (what will happen when the war is over, to rebuild infrastructure, relationships, activities without leaving anyone out?), wisdom and love to one's neighbor (to prevent even worse evils from arising from the ongoing conflict, see the lesson of World War I). All of this begins from those examples of charity and relationships that existed between two brotherly peoples now divided. Or from small, albeit feeble, signs of dialogue facilitated by the Church and political actors. Or from asking for a creative effort from European institutions starting with aid to the suffering population divided by the front.

Getting into the matter, Professor Rizzerio, with her humanist philosophical approach, began the meeting by explaining the etymology of the words used for "war" in several European languages: many refer to it as something disorderly, while in others it is identified with a dialogical tension between two opposites to take a common step forward.

Professor De Volder clearly stated that creative actions in foreign policy for peace have been lost. A certain polarization of thought has meant that people no longer try to create something new, but prefer to barricade themselves in the already known.

Finally, Professor Schoors invited us to think about peace, and what it will look like. Because only by having this vision will international geopolitics be able to take advantage of any opportunity to take action in that direction. For example, during the recent flood because of the dam break, if the European Union had launched a peace mission to rescue both Russians and Ukrainians, it would have been a sign of seeking peace and dialogue with everyone. Regardless of the assessments and feasibility of the example, it is understandable how action can therefore become creative if there is some tension.

The second surprise was how some of us returned home. Laura was struck by how the three speakers had personally put themselves at stake, showing us that from our daily environments we can be more creative and live in tension by entering into relationships with others. Davide found that, thanks to three sensitivities and stories different from his own, he was able to recognize and deepen the reasonableness and urgency of Pope Francis' invitation, just as in organizing the meeting and following authority in the Church and the movement, he was able to recognize that he needed the other to experience the Christian event.

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Finally, Giovanni had been long wondering, "What does everything that I live have to do with this tragedy? Where is the connection to everything, which makes one understand, embrace the meaning of things? Attributing the war to human folly is not enough for me." At the end of the meeting he met Olivier, a former physical therapist in a wheelchair and with serious health problems after a serious illness. He had travelled 30 kilometers by cab to come to the meeting. In the end, he was delighted! Giovanni noticed this on the return trip, when he drove him back, during which Olivier told him a bit about his life, what had happened to him and some family drama. It struck him how it had been an opportunity for Olivier to understand more in order to act and follow his heart ("because war clashes with the desire for life"). Despite, and perhaps through, his limitations, he wants to involve himself more and more to build peace, to help make it happen. "But how is this possible?" thought Giovanni. What did he see that night? He said goodbye to him in front of the elevator at home, with a big smile, particularly for the ride and help with his wheelchair. Giovanni, who gets angry when he is not "useful" enough in this world, understood that what is useful, really useful, is only Christ.