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Claretian Missionaries – PROCLADE Internazionale

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The word, at the service of Peace and Reconciliation. Southern Cone. SDG 16

by | Sep 21, 2022 | America, Peace | 0 comments

El servicio a la Palabra en contextos de violencia discursiva

Fernando Guzman

From the Southern Cone of America

From this corner of South America, I will share some reflections concerning situations that destabilize the processes of Peace and Reconciliation in the region. I will also suggest some missionary keys to being active agents of dialogue from our service to the Word.

Although in our Southern Cone, there are episodes of high factual conflict (we are not alien to the political-institutional violence that seems to be constitutive of our States), our scenarios could be defined as “medium intensity” concerning those that exist in some countries of Central America, in Colombia or the so-called “hot borders” of the American continent.

Based on the above provisional diagnosis, I will choose as the thematic focus of the article what happens in our countries with discursive violence, hate speeches or, going further, the discourses (media, political and judicial) that -even presenting themselves in elegant linguistic garb- are breeding grounds for social violence. Then, in a second part, I will suggest some keys to undo the confrontations and move towards a “culture of encounter, “ch Francis has been proclaiming.

Low-intensity violence?

For some time now, a way of relating to each other has been deepening in our countries whose substratum is the friend-enemy logic, introduced by Carl Schmitt as the essence of politics. From debates installed on the public agenda (role of the State, reforms in the judicial system, gender and diversity policies, abortion, etc.), our civil societies are moving dangerously towards polarization. We no longer speak of fragments but opposing and irreconcilable factions, expressed with a strong dose of virulence and aggressiveness, rarely accompanied by solid argumentation. From this antinomic attitude, the other is identified as the bad, the wrong, the undesirable, the one who should have neither place nor voice: he is the enemy to whom nothing corresponds.

To this logic is added the logic of elimination, which is a further step. Once the enemy is defined, it is imperative to denigrate him until he disappears from the debate scene. Without someone else to question us, our thinking grows fat and, paradoxically -like almost everything that germinates in solitude- becomes impoverished.

This occurs in what we could call scenarios of misleading priorities. In effect, discursive violence, the merciless attack on the opinion and viewpoint of the other, often takes place around issues that are alien to the urgencies of the people and, especially, to the segment of the population that is historically disadvantaged. This false prioritization is installed by the hegemonic media, direct collaborators of the political class that tries to build “smokescreens” everywhere. As a result, the central debates, those that define in reality our conditions of existence as humanity (the future of our children and youth, the sustainability of the planet, political systems, and their economic models, energy alternatives, national sovereignties, the role of our states in the concert of international politics, new ways of conceiving work) are hidden behind the scenes.

And since the “noise” that accompanies the arguments is more striking than the argumentation itself, everything develops as a competition of loud slogans rather than as a debate of weighed ideas.

This escalation of the conflict on the verbal, discursive, and symbolic levels (with social networks as the central lodging) reaches the level of physical violence and real confrontations between groups or sides. Just as it was said that “war is the continuation of politics by other means,” we could say that social and symbolic violence is the continuation of politics by other means. We could say that social and political violence is – in many cases – the continuation of verbal violence.

How can we contribute to peace and reconciliation processes in the face of these scenarios of fracture and confrontation?

Three points to building Peace Dialogue as a Church

First of all, we must be attentive to the attempts to install a “peace of the cemeteries,” a “diplomatic peace,” a helpful peace to the mechanisms of domination. This will never be the peace of Christ or the people. Likewise, a reconciliation without repentance, without an honest review, and reparation will be an empty reconciliation. In these processes, as missionaries who follow Jesus, we cannot neglect the horizon of justice. It is from the last ones, those whose dignity is most injured, that we must build processes of truth and justice, which will derive from genuine reconciliation and peace.

In this context of permanent aggression toward different points of view, it is crucial to lose the fear of the other, to go out to meet him, and to practice the closeness of which Francis speaks. Without approaching different opinions, positions, and views… what richness can our missionary service acquire, and what content will we give to the prophetic dialogue we recognize to practice in the new places? The best antidote to avoid the pastoral monologues we usually incur is to allow ourselves to be permeated by other perspectives.

On the level of thought, reflection, spirituality… there are also “comfort zones” from which it is necessary to emerge, not out of fashion but out of fidelity to the Gospel. From a courageous and open approach to the peripheries, a profound sense of synodality can emerge. Besides, walking together will be walking with others and being neighbors, not only partners.

Another key to betting and contributing to the encounter, to a fraternal coincidence, is the constant disposition to start again, cultivating the “gratuitous, pure and simple desire to want to be people, to be constant and untiring in the work of including, integrating, lifting the fallen”. A spirituality that never renounces to resume dialogue and is always tempted to be reborn in respectful and honest exchange is indispensable in contexts overshadowed by conflict. Our missionary spirituality must always be a spirituality of re-engagement.

A third point, derived from our shared condition of servants of the Word, is the call we have to be bridges of dialogue, not of open dialogue, but with “words full of truth”. Exercising a charity committed to the truth. We do not encourage here “third positions” that escape or shy away from the conflict of history, but on the contrary, to insert ourselves in this dynamic by making a different contribution, distinguished by the prophecy of “speaking with firmness and conviction, stripped of all violence”. It is possible: Jesus did it, and we are called to do the same.

As a Claretian family present in this South, we want to be active builders of peace born of justice, to be agents of reconciliation from the peripheries, restoring and repairing. We are people who want to live and live in abundance. 

Fernando Guzman



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