Some days are days for meeting the people and communities who are on the receiving end of our support. Some days are for meeting our partners whom we fund and help to do the work. Today was a day for meeting the partners and what an inspiring day it was.
We’ll have to split the day into a few blogs, some about the work of the Bishops’ Social Action Commission (CEAS) here in Peru and others about The Institute of Bartolomé de las Casas, just a couple of blocks down from CEAS.
CEAS is the official social education and action department of the Peruvian Catholic Church, founded in 1965 to support the Dioceses of Peru in the social dimension of their mission. CEAS, one of our key partners in Peru, has worked to support poor and marginalised communities throughout what has been a difficult time in Peru.
As I read over those last two sentences, I realise how abstract that all sounds which is a shame as ‘worked’, ‘support’ and ‘difficult’ really don’t do justice to the real situation.
There has been conflict in Peru in relatively recent history and I’m not going to detail it here, needless to say that as in many conflicts, innocent people have been victims in the conflict. Terrible things happened, thousands of people ‘disappeared’. Guerillas killed many and Government troops did the same. The people lived in fear of both sides and the deplorable tactics they employed. This is all in recent, living memory and mass graves are being discovered still. Many of the families of the victims are afraid to speak out and share what they know in fear of a backlash.
It is not a secret that corruption has existed within Peruvian politics, that there is belief within Peru that corruption still exists and it has been said that this is the main cause of poverty within Peru.
From the beginning of the conflict CEAS have been supporting the communities caught up in the violence. This work has varied in response to the needs of the people. To this day CEAS are helping communities and individuals find mass graves and have access to the justice which has hitherto been denied them. Supporting individuals through these difficult times is essential, though it’s not just emotional or psychological support, CEAS provide expert legal advice to help people battle their way through the legal systems which provide many obstacles. This is a process which involves working at every level of society and every level of the legal system. This is an ongoing struggle and I am proud to say that we are part of a Church that supports this fight for justice, and proud to be part of an organisation that works to support people and partners such as these.
The government is slow to make reparation and slow to bring those responsible to account.
CEAS and the communities, working with other organisations, are seeking justice. They are calling the government to make reparations and compensate families of victims so they can have proper Christian burials. They are trying to unearth information about mass graves. They are asking for commemorative plaques which state what occurred but the government are unwilling to make this admission. These are simple things, but they are incredibly important for families seeking justice for a lost Father, a missing mother or those wanting to know where their husband or wife is buried.
Little by little things are changing: Small compensations have been made but when shared out this can mean less that $200 per person who lost a parent. My Dad is worth a lot more than $200 and he’s not the only one. The authorities have started to provide some coffins for the burials, but progress is very slow. During this whole process CEAS have been working with other organisations such as the Franciscans, Jesuits and Dominicans to provide support to the families.
I’ve only scraped the surface of the situation here, but biblical concepts such as justice, reconciliation, advocacy, consolation, solidarity and many more come to mind. The all-powerful, all loving God is on the side of the poor, the oppressed and the marginalised. The Catholic Church is on that same side. Here in CEAS I see one example how God is working for justice, through the people who long for justice and through the Church, the people of God, who joins them in this journey.