An Oasis of Peace

Wednesday, November 15, 2017TOPICS: Faculty and Staff

by Fr. William Headley, Founding Dean

On 17 October 2007, I gave the inaugural talk as the founding dean of the Joan B. Kroc School of Peace Studies. Ten years later, it is illuminating to look back and recall our aspirations for the new school and our vision for peace in that inaugural address — albeit in an abridged format. Remembering the saying, “Violence is known; peace is a mystery,” I started my talk by asking: What is peace? 

Certainly, it is not only the cessation of conflict, war and violence. It has more to do with the fullness of life intended for all. Catholic Relief Services (CRS) with which I worked in different capacities for seven years, notes that peace will not happen without solidarity and “Solidarity will change the world.” Dorothy Day — called the most influential American Catholic of the last century — described peace but blended it with justice. She, also, challenged us to change the world:

What we would like to do is change the world — make it a little simpler for people to feed, clothe and shelter themselves as God intended…And, by working for better conditions, by crying out unceasingly for the rights of the workers, of the poor, of the destitute…we can, to a certain extent, change the world.

Day suggested that we “work for an oasis, a little cell of joy and peace in a harried world.” The Kroc School is our oasis here in Southern California. An oasis is not only a place: It is people who share a vision, herein a passion for peace.

Paul Tillich, a famous Protestant theologian, was once asked who he was. “A student,” he replied simply. So are we all … in this oasis, students of peace, laborers in this emerging discipline of peacebuilding:

With its Master of Arts in Peace and Justice Studies including students from Nepal, Sierra Leone, Kenya, Latvia, South Africa the United States;

Our Trans-Border Institute and its intense preoccupation with right relations among and between the peoples of the U.S. and Mexico;

And our Institute for Peace and Justice, reaching out to offer what we have learned to the world and bringing in peacebuilders that all here may continue to learn.

I am asked to grow what is here. But how could I possibly add more? Then I remembered a lesson taken from a symphony orchestra leader. It is the talented players who make the music, herein a symphony of peace. I — with the baton of leadership — enable, encourage, harmonize and stir imaginations, making in the process as little noise as possible.

But oases are even more than areas with water and people. They require those people who — confronted by what others see only as water and desert sand — envision a place and a way of living fuller, more peace-filled lives. This requires a moral imagination, to use the words of John Paul Lederach.

“Violence,” Bruno Bettleheim noted, “is the behavior of someone incapable of imagining solutions to the problem at hand.” “Imagination,” on the contrary, “is the art of bringing forth something that does not exist.” Applied to peacebuilding, imagination is “the capacity to imagine and generate constructive responses … that ultimately break the grips of destructive cycles.”

So what can we imagine for this Joan B. Kroc School of Peace Studies?

Can you imagine students from this region, across the nation and all corners of the world coming here to learn and return home as peacebuilders? Afterward, they remain connected to the School, sharing with us in an ongoing way what they are learning in the field, creating in the process a new blending of theory and practice. Becoming themselves those who, with our modest help, turn deserts into oases of peace in far distant places and much different circumstances.

Can you imagine rigorous research, which aids humanitarian organizations, to discover 1) new ways of integrating justice and peace, 2) balancing the rush of emergency work and the calmer relationship of peacebuilding, 3) trauma healing that effectively serves masses of afflicted people as in Rwanda, 4) and evaluation that shows which peace activities really build peace?

Can you imagine service to local gangs in Southern California, showing their members how to use negotiation, mediation or arbitration rather than guns and knives to settle disputes?

Can our school of peace be an oasis where, in the spirit of a wider ecumenism, different religious traditions assemble to address issues of peace and justice?

Why not imagine a nexus where the School facilitates a multidisciplinary team of skilled environmentalists: A chemist, lawyer, marine biologist, historian and entrepreneurs from off campus, such as gathered around a table here some days ago, fostering new understandings of humankind’s use and abuse of nature?

Or a nexus between military and NGO communities where mutual concerns, fears and hesitancies about one another are dissolved and a new humanitarianism emerges?

Can what we learn on our Mexican border — the busiest border crossing in the world — be shared at the Louvain University, Belgium, where they are fretting over the migration into Europe from Africa? Can we imagine that?

Why cannot this school have a link with every major academic unit on campus, wherein peace expresses itself uniquely in law, arts and sciences, business, nursing and health sciences, engineering and leadership/education studies? Why not?

If these imaginings seem unbelievably grand, remember that we would not be here today except for the imagination and generosity of a one-woman peacebuilder: Joan B. Kroc.

A student searched the internet to answer the question, “How many schools of peace studies are there?” He discovered many, many centers, institutes and programs; only one other school; and a U.N. University with “peace” prominent in the title. “School of Peace Studies” seems to be unique to us. If these moral imaginings cannot happen here, where? If not now, when?

And you: I called you peacebuilders, and so you are - or should be! What do you take home? What are your imaginings? Peace is too important to be left to diplomats and presidents gathered around a mahogany peace table. Peace is not a spectator sport.

As I look back on these words 10 years later, they conjure up memories of the rain that October noon and the rhythmic beat of the African drums greeting visitors. Each spoke to me of blessings. My private prayer that long-ago day was that the Joan B. Kroc School of Peace Studies would become an effective instrument of peace. Surely, it has, far beyond my expectations that day as I mounted the podium. Many are the names and faces of those who contributed to our decadelong advancement and have led us to this graced moment. To each of them, my humble yet sincere thanks. Over this decade, we faced our challenges and opportunities, failures and successes. I close with this advice. Embrace peace with vigor and courage as we have tried to do. Then peace, which is the mystery, will reveal itself.

Joan B. Kroc School of Peace Studies


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