Sant’Egidio president affirms pursuit of peace through close interpersonal relationships
The Kroc Institute for International Peace Studies hosted a panel discussion on Thursday, November 11, addressing the role played by the Sant’Egidio Foundation for Peace and Dialogue in facilitating peace agreements in South Sudan in January 2020. The panel featured the President of Sant’Egidio, Dr. Andrea Bartoli.
Bartoli is a visiting fellow at Columbia University and served as Dean of the School of Diplomacy and International Relations at Seton Hall University until 2019. Sant’Egidio was founded as a lay Catholic community in Rome in 1968 and is known for its role in facilitating the 1992 Mozambique accord and now for its Rome Declaration on the Peace Process in South Sudan. The organization tries to achieve peace through professional processes after developing strong personal relationships between citizens and those in leadership.
In his panel discussion, Bartoli spoke about what facilitating peace looks like on a daily basis. He explained, “Sometimes it is difficult for professionals in the peace-keeping world to understand the unstructured or non-bureaucratic approach of Sant’Egidio, which is constantly open to what is possible.”
Environmental science and global affairs junior Jennifer Eburuoh, who currently interns for Sant’Egidio, told the Rover, “Andrea has a strong sense of how important faith is to the organization, so [Sant’Egidio] does a lot beyond just facilitating peace talks. In every country that they work, they also have community service, engage in the community, and have regular, scheduled prayer.”
Eburuoh also remarked, “One of the biggest things for me was understanding that Sant’Egidio has a really important place in top-level international peace talks, but they also have a very simple job. There is a lot of responsibility, but with that comes simplicity. Their only job is to bring people together for peace.”
She continued, “The UN recently praised Sant’Egidio as being a very effective organization for facilitating peace because they don’t just talk peace, they do peace. It is their way of life but they are also practically savvy at doing it.”
Facilitating peace can be a struggle with international scale and yet be deeply personal. Bartoli commented on his experience visiting the tombs of two religious sisters killed in a violent attack on August 19.
“One of the best things that happened to me while I was in South Sudan was visiting the tomb of Sr. Mary and Sr. Regina. I stopped at the tomb and did my prayers. I understand that sometimes people try to keep professional things and religious things separate, but at Sant’Egidio we are one. We know our vocation was born in prayer and expressed in prayer. It was very clear to me that the encounter with these two women I never met in person was very important to us because Sant’Egidio developed in Catholic tradition to remember dead people and their legacy,” he said during the panel.
Eburuoh agrees with Bartoli: “Andrea spoke about personal responsibility and how it is important to internalize the work of peace but not externalize it and focus on violence happening in other places. You need to identify parts of yourself that are participating in violence.”
Political science professor Dan Philpott has been a member of Sant’Egidio since 2000 and co-founded the Notre Dame branch of the community when he came to campus in 2001. He explained the history of Sant’Egidio to the Rover and how it came to be involved in the peace negotiations in South Sudan.
“The community is fascinating because it is not first and foremost a peace-building organization. It is first an organization focused on friendship, particularly friendship with the poor. It started in 1968 in Rome among a bunch of teenagers who simply wanted to live the Gospel, and they befriended the poorest people in Rome and prayed together. Out of that friendship grew an opportunity for peacemaking,” he said.
Philpott continued, “It began in Rome, but the members had friendships in Mozambique, which had been fighting a terrible civil war between 1974 and 1989. At the end of the Cold War, there arose an opportunity for a peace settlement. The community was able to draw upon its friendships to bring the parties to Rome, where they conducted nine rounds of peace negotiations and finally facilitated an agreement on October 4, 1982. This is virtually unprecedented in modern times.”
“There is a paradox of the credibility and trust that comes from being friends and not from being seen as having a political agenda. That communicates a kind of credibility to people and helped facilitate the [Sudan] agreement. On the reputation of Mozambique, Sant’Egidio was invited to become involved in peacemaking on many other accounts like Nigeria, Guatemala, Liberia, and elsewhere as well as South Sudan,” Philpott remarked.
Philpott concluded that Sant’Egidio has been working in the local Notre Dame community as well. “Here in South Bend we visit the elderly poor, we go to the nursing home and build friendships with the people there.”
Margaret Mathis is a freshman classics major and constitutional studies minor who loves sewing and wants to be an attorney. When she is not narrowly escaping trademark infringement while hand-sewing the Notre Dame logo onto everything she owns, she can be found translating classical texts in Hesburgh library. Reach out to her at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Photo credit: Under Caesar’s Sword – University of Notre Dame