I just returned from an incredible experience. From the 25th of September to the 10th of October and for the first time in my life I traveled to Latin America, more specifically to an incredible area in the north of Colombia, where the absolute beauty and tranquility of God’s creation and the majesty of Mother Earth become one. It is also a place where those commitment to be agents of peace clash with those who are addicted to greed, power, control and violence, and who are willing to destroy everything in their path in order to fulfill their craving.
I traveled with a strong and committed group from the Tamera Peace Community (www.tamera.org) to stand in solidarity, build relations, teach and learn from the San Jose de Apartado peace community, a community of about 1,500 individuals that twelve years ago declared itself as a peace community, and refusing to align with any of the violent groups and militias, from the government’s military to the guerrillas. Their commitment to peace and nonviolence has resulted in all these factions threatening and attacking them.
To know more about the community and our daily program please visit the following site: http://www.grace-pilgrimage.com/. In this email I want to share some personal reflections of my experience there.
THE PEACE COMMUNITY IN COLOMBIA
There were many highlights in this trip which will result in me writing several articles and reflections, so here is a taster of the trip.
We were led in this pilgrimage by Padre Javier Giraldo, a Jesuit Priest and an instrumental leader in the human rights movement in Colombia, and Sabine Lichtenfels, a founder of the Tamera Peace Research Village. Many powerful and incredible people participated in the pilgrimage that I hope to write more about in the near future.
A highlight of the experience for me was engaging in the pilgrimage. We left San Jose de Apartado and walked deep in the jungle to express solidarity with the smaller villages that are part of this peace community; it was a real Grace Pilgrimage for Peace. For several days (and even nights) we walked for long hours up and down mountains that reached the clouds, through rivers deep and wide, in thick ponds of mud, in extreme high and low temperatures, in long hours of beaming / burning sunshine and heat followed by hours of incredible and indescribable rain fall, crossing hilltops that were covered with mines, and passing individuals with machine guns dressed in camouflage (they could have been military, paramilitary or guerillas). We walked between beautiful plants and trees that grow beyond imagination in majesty and beauty, and joined the crawling, climbing, biting, swimming, jumping, and flying colorful creatures, which welcomed us in their way.
About 150 people participated in the pilgrimage, including members of the indigenous communities that were the “guards” to our walk, the farmers of the peace community, and the international participants. Physically, it was a grueling experience, but the compromise was in the spiritual and mental strength that was witnessed by all.
The pilgrimage was an incredible experience for me. The experience made me realize (now through practical steps and not only through theory) that globally, we are fully connected to each other as one family and there is absolutely no difference between any human being and the other. I realize now more than ever that violence somewhere affects all of us, even if the tools, mechanisms and strategies of violence are different between Colombia and Palestine. The underlying causes and the eventual outcomes are the same; to destroy, (directly or indirectly, purposely or not) the physical and moral integrity of God’s creation.
As Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. said “where there is an injustice somewhere … there is an injustice everywhere.” It does not matter where you live; you are affected by the violence that the smallest and most isolated villages in Colombia, Palestine, Zimbabwe, or Indonesia experience. The counter to this is when we realize that healing violence and injustice somewhere will also result in helping to heal violence and injustice everywhere. When we begin to see global violence and greed as a global epidemic that needs global healing, we will then begin to develop the tools, the models and the mechanisms that will aid in real healing.
With this said, and with the need to develop a global mechanism of deep healing, the first step must be taken on the local scale. Individuals, communities, and even nations that face daily violence and oppression must begin to free themselves from the bonds of victimization, narratives that lead to dead-ends, and internal actions of self-destruction. This will create the opportunity for real healing to begin. We can no longer ask, beg or even assume others will save us if we are not ready to risk everything to save ourselves. We can not make others responsible should we choose not to be responsible ourselves.
This is one message I bring from my experience in Colombia and this message I give to myself, to my new friend and brother Arle from the Peace Community of San Jose de Apartado and to all those who seek true peace, justice and equality in this beautiful world of ours.