To Build Peace and Bring Hope
2004 Lenten Lecture
by Mark Raper SJ
Provincial of the Jesuits in Australia
Leone Ryan Auditorium, North Sydney
Ash Wednesday, February 25, 2004
May I acknowledge with you the traditional owners of this place. Theirs is the oldest living human culture, deserving our deepest respect.
also acknowledge you who are members of Australian Catholic University (ACU),
students, teachers and administrative staff. In Ex Corde
Ecclesia, the Holy Father asks, “What is a
While I have this opportunity, may I congratulate ACU and through you, Vice Chancellor, thank the University for its creative initiative in enrolling 24 Burmese refugees currently living in jungle conditions at the Thai Burma border in a joint project with the Jesuit Refugee Service (JRS). In this way these young refugees, though still in camps, and though their people are not yet at peace (indeed theirs is one of the world’s longest running conflicts), do not lose their time of waiting.
are not new. Even the story of Adam and Eve speaks of their exile. For as long as intolerance and oppression
have been part of human history, there have been refugees. The numbers of
people uprooted today, and the extent of human suffering may not be proportionately
greater than at other times in history. The numbers displaced by the Second
World War, for example, were in the tens of millions. But with the spread of
modernity and its means of communication to every corner of the globe, not only
have the total numbers risen, but we are also more aware of them. Contemporary
media makes their plight, the size, frequency, speed and complexity of the
refugee crises, immediate to us all. The
arrival of a small number on our shores, not in itself a new phenomenon,
is now a matter of hyperbolic rhetoric in
Refugees are everywhere, and so are stories about them. Refugees today move in new directions, and can arrive anywhere, although it is often overlooked that 90% of them remain in the poorest countries. Rather than searching for ways to protect the rights of asylum seekers, states present themselves as overwhelmed by a crisis. But instead of seeking solutions, they try by all means either to ignore the problem or to block the movements. Yet harsh legislation, ostensibly designed to protect states against refugees and migrants, only serves to strengthen illegal operations that bring desperate people across borders. The real refugee crisis is that the root causes are again overlooked, and that the international set of agreements designed to offer protection to refugees is now being dismantled, piece by piece, by the states that signed them into force.
My lecture tonight is entitled, “To build peace and to bring hope”. It is a Lenten lecture. “During Lent, we prepare to relive the Paschal Mystery, which sheds the light of hope upon the whole of our existence, even its most complex and painful aspects”, wrote the Pope in his message for Lent 2004. And in his Peace Message last January 1st, he spoke of love “… the deepest hope of every human heart” as the foundation of authentic and lasting peace. To be a refugee is a complex and painful human experience. If we will hear them, the refugees will teach us what it is to bring hope, and what are the ways to build peace.
I have chosen to speak about the world-wide movement of refugees today, about what I believe are the causes of this phenomenon, how it impacts on our society, and what we can do in response. With your permission, I do not pretend to give an academic lecture. Rather I will seek to reflect on my experiences of living and working with refugees for over 20 years.
Peace, Bringing Hope” is also the theme for Caritas
How is it that so much resources and energy are spent, by individuals and governments, in order to avoid what we fear, yet so little is spent on pursuing what we love, respect or long for? In order to build peace and to bring hope, we are invited to follow our hearts rather than to surrender to our fears.
“If you want peace, work for justice”, said Pope
Paul VI. But his advice is contrary to
the logic of some other world leaders.
In response to threat facing his country, the President of the world’s
most powerful state could only promise to lead the world into a war that will
not end, against an enemy that is not clear.
[Slide on Desktop: Be not afraid]
Project Compassion’s theme, “Building Peace, Bringing Hope”, takes up the gospel call, ‘Do not be afraid’ in a world increasingly dominated by fear and insecurity. Fear is dominant in the formulation of both international and domestic policies today. The logic of fear leads to anxiety, isolation, suspicion, inaction, violence. By contrast the way of the gospel speaks to our desires. ‘Do not be afraid’ is a way of releasing dreams and desires of peace and hope. The logic of desires leads to confidence, trust, reconciliation.
Hope is different from optimism. Hope arises from lived experiences of suffering. Imagine the will, the sustained desire, the strength of character, needed to keep a refugee’s hope alive, not only in escaping persecution, but in surviving ongoing detention, isolation and vilification.
Through some stories and some pictures, I invite you into the refugee experience, and through that experience to another way of viewing our world. Not all refugee stories have happy outcomes, in fact far from it. Sometimes we experience only our powerlessness. Yet we can learn from all of the stories.
a six-foot-six Dinka, had arrived in
Perhaps there is no moral to draw from the story of Gabriel who had traversed, mostly on foot, the geography of our world of conflict and refugees: escaping the Sudan war he was caught in a middle Eastern one, blocked when trying asylum routes west, east, south and north, caught in the eddy of the Indochinese refugee tide, finally a target in someone else’s war.
Every continent and
every region of the world is affected by forced displacement of people. Over
the past 25 years almost every country in
history of refugees over these past 25 years is marked at mid-point by the
decisive events of 1989, the collapse of the Berlin Wall and the end of the
Cold War. In the 80s and before, those who fled communist regimes received most
attention. Almost two million Indochinese, for example,
were resettled in over 30 countries, among them many came to
1990, a moment in time when contemporary world history changed dramatically, I
was moved to
course the Balkans and the terrible conflict in
all this time in the
do refugees leave home? In classic migration theory, three sets of factors
influence human movement: Push, Pull
and Networks. Multiple factors are at play when a person chooses to
leave home. Studies have revealed that
the top ten reasons for asylum seekers coming to
In a few weeks, in Holy Week to be precise, we will commemorate 10 years since the Rwandan genocide began. It began in early April with the killing of President Habiyarimana, and then with the assassination of a group of people at Centre Christus, the Jesuit retreat centre in Kigali, on 6th April 1994, among them three Jesuits, one of them the director of the local JRS program. The world was shocked by the genocide that raged, taking over 800,000 lives in a few months, but it was also paralysed. It was portrayed as ethnic conflict, as if that truth was also an answer or an explanation.
open the layers of Rwandan society, one can find some factors that help us, if
not to accept, at least to begin to understand.
At that time the President of the country was a Hutu, but under intense international pressure, he was about to sign into law the Arusha Agreement to allow a more democratic process in the country, with the consequent risk that he would lose power. In the attacks of April 1994 that precipitated the genocide, extremist Hutus first targeted moderate Hutus and any other moderate figure, whatever their ethnicity. Then, seeking by all means to retain power, they exploited this discontented mass of young people, using radio stations to send them to the hills with a poisoned message of ethnic hatred. Ethnicity and discontent, bred from poverty, were exploited by individuals for corrupt reasons.
‘It is not power that corrupts, but fear”, Aung San Suu Kyi  tells us in a comment learned from her own experience. “Fear of losing power corrupts those who wield it and fear of the scourge of power corrupts those who are subject to it.”
the international community have done something to stop the
Rwandan vignette shows the complexity of one situation, where there has been
remarkable recovery and healing. Yet, without wishing to depress you, it is
important to indicate that the countries around Rwanda remain in crisis: Uganda
to the north, where about 1 million people are internally displaced; Congo to
the west where, according to a longitudinal study over the past 4 years by
International Rescue Committee, some three million people have died over the
past ten years because of conflict or conflict induced disease and starvation.
James Wolfensohn, who heads the World Bank, was interviewed
recently in preparation for a visit to
"I personally feel the world is out of balance," he is quoted as saying. "The way the world is dealing with problems of poverty and peace seem to be disconnected." Military spending worldwide is now probably $US1000 billion ($1315 billion), and spending on subsidies or tariffs to protect farmers in the developed world is about $US300 billion. In comparison, wealthy countries offer no more than $US50-$US60 billion in aid to developing countries while blocking most of their agricultural exports – one of the few opportunities these countries have to haul themselves out of poverty.
“There are 5 billion people in the developing world, 3 billion earning under $US2 a day, and 1.2 billion earning under $1 a day…If you can't give them hope, which comes from getting a job or doing something productive, giving them their self-respect, these people become the basis on which terrorists or renegades or advocacy groups can flourish. It's an essentially unstable situation……
…If you cannot deal with the question of hope, there is no way that with military expenditure you can have peace. I think you could spend $US2 trillion on military expenditure, but if you do nothing about poverty and development you're not going to have stability."
I am convinced
that the underlying causes of the forced displacement of people today are found
in the imbalance in the distribution of the world’s resources and the
consequent conflicts that spring from this imbalance. The building blocks to peace will be found in
addressing these causes. Australian
immigration advocate, Professor Jerzy Zubrzycki wrote recently: “Basically, the challenge to
last week, Cardinal Murphy-O’Connor also addressed this point in a summit on
“Our greatest challenge at the beginning of the 21st century is poverty. Our greatest debt is the debt to our brothers and sisters in the poorest parts of the world. Our greatest hope is our common humanity and solidarity. And our greatest strength is our commitment to work together. I would like to think we can all take that message back to our communities, our institutions and our Governments…”
If, as Cardinal Murphy O’Connor claims, the greatest threat to world today is poverty not terrorism, why do we not have a war on poverty rather than war on terror?
Polish sociologist, Zygmunt Bauman has written yet
another stimulating book reflecting on modern society. He goes further in his
analysis than simply naming poverty as a cause, he
examines the inequity that modernity requires.
His book is called ‘Wasted Lives, Modernity and its Outcasts’, in which
he examines the production of ‘superfluous’ populations of migrants, refugees
and other outcasts, the inevitable outcome of modernisation. Formerly, he
claims, the large parts of the world that were wholly or partly unaffected by
modernisation were able to absorb the excess of population of developed
countries. Global solutions were sought,
and temporarily found, to local problems.
Convicts and unemployed were sent to
Bauman also comments on how the forces of globalisation strip governments of their sovereign prerogatives. People see the local store, the local bank and post office disappear from their neighbourhood, even from the control of the national economy. When the real culprit may be the micro chip, governments can attempt to demonstrate that they are asserting their sovereignty by flexing their muscles and firing salvos at selected targets, such as petty crime and asylum seekers.
Why does our government keep children locked away in detention centres and on remote Pacific islands? It now claims that this punishment of a few will save others, that it will deter them from seeking to come to this country. It may. It may work for a few more months. But in no way does this approach address the fundamental problems that confront our world. It is an egregious distraction from the real problems and it is a miserable exploitation of people as means to an end.
At Christmas I was startled to
receive a letter from Senator Amanda Vanstone since an organisation, A Just
Australia, of which I am one of many patrons, sought to find a resolution to
the hunger strike of the people on
Indeed it is possible. John Menadue, former head of the
Department of Immigration, wrote: “The most meaningful job of my life was as
Head of the Department of Immigration and Ethnic Affairs….I knew that I was
part of nation-building. I also learned, at that time, that it is possible to
manage a humanitarian program for 100,000 Indo-Chinese refugees who came to
“We make progress”, said Meister Eckhart, the 13th century German Dominican mystic, “by stopping.” It is good to stop and consider just how we can go forward. In the mid-sixties, a prophetic Latin American, Helder Camara, made this appeal on the floor of the Second Vatican Council:
Shall we really spend our whole
time on discussing internal problems of the Church while two thirds of the
world population are starving to death?
What is our message in view of the question of underdevelopment? Will the Council express its concern for the
great problems of mankind? Is the shortage of priests
The Council’s response, calling the Church not just to look inwards at itself, but to be of service to the world, was also prophetic and it is still valid:
The joys and hopes, the griefs and anxieties of the people of this age, especially those who are poor or in any way afflicted, these are the joys and hopes, the griefs and the anxieties of the followers of Christ. Indeed, nothing genuinely human fails to raise an echo in their hearts. 
Out of that impulse many organisations were begun, among them our own Australian Caritas which is indeed now 40 years old.
That Council was not a dress rehearsal. Life is not a dress rehearsal. But Lent gives us time to reflect. And you students at university have the opportunity to test values, to enquire into what is right, to acquire discipline in your thinking, and to learn how to build peace and to bring hope.
“Each of us carries the responsibility of upholding the principles of justice and common decency – it falls on … ordinary people…It is the cumulative effect of their sustained effort and steady endurance which will change a nation where reason and conscience are warped by fear into one where legal rules exist to promote our desire for harmony and justice”. 
Murphy, “Refugees in
 Aung San Suu Kyi,
Freedom from Fear and Other Writings, Penguin Books,
 ‘No peace without hope’ Roy Eccleston The
 ‘Jerzy Zubrzycki: Let’s revisit
Calwell ideal’ The
 Zygmunt Bauman, Wasted Lives – Modernity and its
 John Menadue “Australian Multiculturalism: Successes,
Problems and Risks” The Multicultural Experiment: Immigrants, Refugees and National
Identity” Leonie Kramer (ed), Macleay Press,
 Aung San Suu Kyi, op.cit. p.182