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La guerra madre de todas las pobrezas

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In the understanding that the Community of Sant'Egidio has progressively developed, conflict and poverty are increasingly intimately linked. War is the "mother of every poverty", destroyer of the humanitarian commitment for the future of entire populations; civil war in which members of the same population no longer recognize each other as brothers.

War is also the absence of every justice, as seen in so many countries where conflict makes the defense of the most basic human rights impossible, as in Latin America and Africa. The civil populations are the first victims of conflict, crushed in the vise of opposing sides. And among civilians those most affected are the poor, those without means whom no one defends, often victims of violence from both sides.

In countries and lands upset by such events development cannot occur while justice is made subject to the logic of violence.

Mons. Oscar 
Arnulfo Romero

In 1981 Father Jesus Delgado was invited by Sant'Egidio to bring the testimony of Msgr. Oscar Arnulfo Romero, martyr of peace and justice and archbishop of San Salvador, the capital of a little country in Central America where a civil war raged. The words of the bishop's secretary described the drama of El Salvador as that of a small population abandoned to itself amidst a long war; a war looked upon by the chanceries of the great powers and of Europe as a war of "low intensity" and therefore acceptable.

From this and other testimonies from the mid eighties Sant'Egidio increased its reflection on the value of peace with special attention to the South of the world, where conflicts seem to magnify the terrible damage caused by hunger and famine, as in Africa, or where they are rooted in the injustice of the exclusion of entire sections of the population forced to live in great misery, as in Latin America.

The cry of pain that comes from the Southern hemisphere, and in particular from Africa, are brought through the requests and tales of bishops, of missionaries and friends of the community. The Community brings humanitarian aid to many countries in the Southern hemisphere. However, war is a brutal reality that annihilates any effort at cooperation.

For Sant'Egidio, the history of solidarity with Mozambique represents this Africa abandoned and vulnerable to a conflict that, besides creating innumerous victims, made initiatives to alleviate the suffering of the population during the famines of the latter half of the 80s difficult. The community's friendship with Bishop Jaime Gonçalves, archbishop of the central city of Beira, helps to understand the suffering of a people caught between war and famine. Furthermore, in those years the Mozambican Church suffered repression by the Afro-Marxist regime.

Ship of aid for

In a short time, three airplanes and two ships full of food, clothes, primary need supplies and even work tools, arrived to the country. The humanitarian effort was also useful in melting the icy relations between the state and the Catholic Church, until then considered the "enemy of the people". But each effort to help seemed to get swallowed up by the vicissitudes of the war that wiped out the attempts to reconstruct the future of the country. The necessity of confronting the primary problem of the reconciliation between the government, Frente de Liberaçao de Moçambique (FRELIMO) and the guerilla, Resistencia Nacional de Moçambique (RENAMO), became increasingly clear.

The passage of Sant'Egidio from the field of humanitarian work to the contradictory one of politics came about at this point: many western chanceries at the time thought that the Mozambican conflict could not be dealt with until after the resolution of apartheid in South Africa. The result was a paralysis in the face of a conflict that had by then gone on for more than 10 years creating an enormous number of victims and displaced people. Sant'Egidio perceived the situation differently: Despite the historical references to the general picture of Southern Africa, one sees in both rival groups a progressive exhaustion in the faith of military solutions while, at the same time, Sant'Egidio identified the endogenous reasons of the conflict which cause its unending continuation.

After various attempts to search for institutional support, the Community of Sant'Egidio offered itself as "mediator". They established certain contacts with the RENAMO guerillas. The negotiations took their start amidst great difficulties: there was a problem of recognition so that the negotiation did not assume the characteristic of a reciprocal tribunal; there was also a problem of communication between the negotiators and the leadership in Mozambique. The FRELIMO government wanted an immediate ceasefire, the only strong bargaining chip of RENAMO. Furthermore it was necessary to create a climate of trust that would make it possible for the talks to continue.

Rome 1990
The Negotiations for Peace in Mozambique

Together with Bishop Jaime Gonçalves and the representative of the Italian government, Mario Raffaelli, Andrea Riccardi and Matteo Zuppi inaugurated the negotiation table in July of 1990 at the headquarters of the Community located in a Roman district called Trastevere. On that occasion Andrea Riccardi made a speech to the two delegations which established the foundation of the “method” of the talks:


Riccardi also underlined the principle which would be then the basis of the long negotiation:

"Many serious problems exist in the past and in the future. We are aware that every problem can give rise to misunderstanding and that the interpretations which are made are very different. Will we be able to resolve them and overcome the human and political difficulties which are on the field? An expression of the great Pope John XXIII, which was also his working method, comes to mind: “let us strive to find that which unites rather than that which divides”. The desire for that which unites can also suggest to us a working method, the spirit of this meeting. That which unites is not little, rather there is a great deal. There is the great Mozambican family, with its very ancient history of suffering (…) The unity of the Mozambican family has survived this history of suffering. We find ourselves today, if you will allow me to say, before two brothers, truly part of the same family, who have had different experiences in these last years, who have fought each other. (…) Conflicts with outsiders pass, between brothers it always seems more difficult. Nevertheless brothers will always be brothers, notwithstanding all the painful experiences. This is that which unites, to be Mozambican brothers, part of the same great family".

The echo of these words are found in the first document jointly signed by the parties: both recognized each other “compatriots and members of the same great Mozambican family”. This fraternal mutual recognition, children of the same people, is decisive: it recalls the biblical story of Joseph and his brothers, cited by Andrea Riccardi in his introductory speech. There is a deep separation: the brothers do not recognize Joseph, minister in Egypt. At a certain point Joseph, crying, goes to find his brothers and reveals himself. To objectively be brothers but not to recognize each other as such: it is a central point which must be overcome in every negotiation.

The Mozambican negotiations lasted 27 months, with 11 sessions of work. Between the highs and the lows a truly constructive climate had begun between the parties and the choice for a negotiated solution grew stronger until it made irreversible progress. In order to observe and support the Mozambican process several representatives of western and neighboring governments were invited, as well as an UN delegation. The general peace accord, signed in Sant'Egidio on October 4, 1992, today still remains one of the few examples of an African conflict brought to an end through peace talks in the past decade.

Rome, 4 October 1992
The signing of the Mozambican peace accord

The peace in Mozambique has become an example of how a non-institutional reality, the Community of Sant'Egidio, can successfully bring a mediation process to an end with a mixture and a synergy of responsibilities between governmental entities and non-governmental organizations.

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