In this week’s issue of The Tablet, I read a very interesting article by David Hollenbach on efforts at peacebuilding in violence torn Colombia: “Lessons from the Wounded Edge”. David provides a lot of examples of courageous grassroots initiatives, in the line of what I was in touch with during an Antwerpen workshop on Peace Building Leadership some years ago, where a group of Colombian women presented an initiative called “Cartografía de la Esperanza”, developed in collaboration with An Vranckx who worked at IPIS and is teaching in the University of Antwerpen. They connected – through processes of shared leadership in dangerous and threatening situations – women from various villages in violent zones to design practices of resistance against violence and survival. It is wonderful to see the resilience of grassroots people in the face of violence that surrounds them and against which they seem to be helpless and resourceless. A hopeful sign in Colombia is that these people also receive the support of the Church, which enables them to become part of a broader spectrum of peacebuilding activities at various political and social levels. This multilevelled work is crucial in the case of violent conflicts.
From the point of view of theology, I particularly like this article’s title in which reference is made to the “wounded edge”. It is a very accurate way to describe the double perspective implied in the preferential option for the poor. On the one side, there is the willingness and the urge to give voice and space to those who suffer the conflict and its consequences. But this could still be interpreted in a very “paternalistic” and “colonialist” way: “let’s listen to those poor people, but we will then tell them what to do to solve the conflict, as we know better” – a form of easy charity. Therefore, there is another side to the preferential option for the poor, and that is expressed in the word “edge”: those poor harbour the creativity to solve the conflict, they are at the creative edge and they are, in the Latin-American sense of the word, “subjects” of the peacebuilding history.
David’s article is precious reading for those interested in the conflict in Colombia, for those looking for how to deal with complexities of peacebuilding efforts, and for all of us who are invited to make the “preferential option for the poor” a dimension of their actions and thoughts.