Ferdinand Von Habsburg-Lothringen’s participation in a panel discussion at Catholic University in Juba on April 22, 2016 follows:
I wanted to share a few ideas with you today, so let me start with a quote from Pope Francis… “War does not begin in the field of battle. Wars begin in the heart of … misunderstandings, divisions, jealousies.”
– Our imagination, our wounds, our anger, our stories and experiences can give a core to violence long before it occurs. In the same way, we can love ourselves and others and build peace long before peace agreements are signed. We must fight our own internal battles first and try to win them or risk losing the war that could continue to destroy our country of South Sudan!
I want to look at three areas briefly today: Where do we find ourselves, what are our challenges and finally, how can we journey to a better place.
Where do we find ourselves?
– I have often wondered why we talk of cycles of violence. When I was reading and reflecting, I thought I found an answer. Firstly, trauma, which is a form of psychological re-living of violent event(s) around us and to us, recreates the very clearest sensation of the original pain, potentially negatively impacting on our thoughts and behavior. Many of us feel it and know it, but perhaps we call it something else.
– So I ask myself, when did the troubles in many parts of the country begin and are we reliving them? Many conflicts are at least 20 years old or one generation ago, and many of the very people who commit acts of violence against each other today are among those who were breast-fed on stories that give birth to today’s hatred and despair, whose parents saw and experienced some of the first problems. Trauma can be transferred to another generation. A full cycle.
– The process of prejudices becoming ingrained in young children happens even as they develop their language. And so we are saying that we learn our world views with all their biases from our earliest moments with our parents, our relatives.
– So, we may not only have pain imprinted on us because we happen to have been born in Sudan, grew up in Southern Sudan and now are becoming adults in South Sudan. But we also often learn things that we have to unlearn from behavior.
Challenges we face
This leaves us with a tremendous challenge: where does the problem lie? But also, how do we begin to solve it?
– G.K. Chesterton was once asked by someone, “What is wrong with the world?” He famously replied, “I am.” I believe that this question, but especially the answer, is key to our thinking. I am wrong with the world. The person central to the story even though we are in South Sudan is I, or you, or she, or he or they, not only our leaders. And we are not perfect, are we? We are human, and we make mistakes; we are blessed, and we bring goodness. And we are wounded by our pasts. Often our first reaction when the world is not right is to blame others. No one wants to be seen as vulnerable or wrong. As children we can still hear ourselves saying: It was not me, it was him or her!
– Now if we are to go by some statistics for how conflict has affected South Sudanese, we see anywhere between 40% and 60% of people surveyed have been severely affected by violent conflict. Whatever these statistics tell us, we can be sure that three civil wars have had a profound and negative impact on people.
– Even 21 years after the genocide in Rwanda a study shows that 26% of the population continues to have symptoms of trauma. One in every four Rwandans. Thus we can say that the effects of conflicts will likely be with us for generations.
– In the 90s people fled with their children (many of you were those children) and in 2013, those children have now grown up and flee with their own children.
– Many of us are enslaved by our past, or the past of our parents and their parents. Deal with your past, or the past will deal with you. And so we are alive, but not fully living. As one Rwandan professor said, “You need to do more than survive – you need to make a kind of journey, to be able to live again.”
– Can we blame leaders, or the international community, or any other group for what has happened all those years? I will not answer that, but if we do, we also have to blame ourselves. By our actions, our words, even by our silence, we are to blame. When we joke about others or other communities, when we tell our children that the enemy lives over there or that they cannot marry into this tribe or that, then we feed the great monster that may later destroy this nation. We can all be part of the problem but above all we must be a part of the solution.
How can we journey to that better place?
– I mentioned a journey that we must all make each day, and until the end of our lives. But before you go on a journey, what do you do? You calculate where and how far to go, what you need to complete it, etc. This journey is not any journey, it is the most important journey towards peace within ourselves, with our fellow citizens and therefore with God. Without this journey, South Sudan will not exist as a nation.
In October 2014, when 75 people from all over the country had spent one month together in Yei reflecting about peace, they were asked what they would do on reaching home after the training. Many had big plans but I recall one man saying: “I will try to explain my journey towards peace to my family, but I am not sure I will succeed.” You can see that he was calculating how far he would have to go: to undo his behavior, to explain why he was going to do this, to justify that he was not going to behave in a certain communal way, but look at his wounds and try to heal. You see the risks!
– On a hard journey, you need a good walking stick. That support should be your family, friends, perhaps a counselor, a church leader. People who are not afraid that you are going on that journey, who will not try to tell you: No! Stay with us!
Ask yourselves, “What kind of a world do we and our children want to live in?” Tell yourself, “There is a better way.” And deny the lie that war and violence is inevitable and that enemies must be fought and killed – we are speaking about brothers and sisters, not enemies.
– Imagine that you are showing your children the way on that journey. Do you choose for them a road of bitterness and death? Do they know that you are choosing that road for them? Do not give your children your wounds, bear yours yourselves. Their journey should be a peaceful journey in a peaceful world.
– We also need good sign posts that show the way – they warn us when we have to stop, or move, or go one way or another… If we understand what harm internal wounds do to us, how they can affect our behavior negatively, then that understanding guides us to be careful, to slow down, and perhaps even to change direction. Living directly out of the anger of our wounds will lead to far more serious consequences.
– One of my favorite passages is Ezekiel Chapter 37 that talks of a valley of bones – a vision of hopelessness and lifelessness: Our bones are dried up and our hope is gone.
– What are we waiting for to give us hope? Money, cars, power? What will heal our wounds and make us and our nation whole will not come from these but from silent reflection. When I stop making noise, then in the silence I will find the place where I am broken, wounded, dying. I may choose to understand that this pain holds despair that can destroy me or I may say that this pain holds a promise that can transform me, one day at a time.
– What is wrong with the world? I am.
What is right with our world? We are.
– Reaching into that woundedness of mine, I need to listen to your woundedness. Because the whole that is the nation of South Sudan has been broken, you and I. Your truth must become my truth and we will see that we are no different one from the other… We have all been wounded. With compassion, I can indeed suffer with you or him or her on our journey together in search for life. I free you for you to free me, by the grace of God. And forgive us our trespasses, as we forgive those who trespass against us.
If we each understand one another’s suffering then the wounds are the very way through which we can all become wounded healers ourselves – a new vision as the dry bones come to life, filled with the new Spirit. A new body, with all its beautiful parts coming to life, through healing… A fellowship of the weak, where strength is hidden in the weakness. I cannot say: I am reconciled or I am healed because I have not reached the end of the journey yet. I must face myself and others each day, sacrificing my pride, cooling my anger, telling my children a new beautiful story. If we know that our journey is a long one and that we are sending all our children on it, too, then we have no time to lose… True community, true nationhood is a fellowship of the weak.