On Christmas Eve of 1814, the United States and Great Britain were still at war. Would the coming new year bring peace or an escalation of war and bloodshed? This was a tipping point in time.
Which way would it go? These thoughts occupied the minds of many in Britain and America that holiday night. Little did they know that a decision was being reached. British and American diplomats signed the Treaty of Ghent on Christmas Eve in Belgium, ending the war.
Historian Fred Engelman said the American diplomatic team “disappeared into the solemn night with peace in their pockets.”
As there was no CNN breaking news at that time, weeks went by before many knew about the agreement. Not all British and American differences were resolved that night either. That would take more time and steering in the direction of peace.
One of the diplomats involved in the Treaty signing was Albert Gallatin. He helped transition the U.S. and Great Britain from countries at war to partners in peace during the 19th century.
Gallatin wrote that diplomats are essentially “ministers of peace,” and their goal is to reduce conflict and tensions, prevent war or restore peace. Gallatin on many an occasion took to talking or writing to try and achieve these aims. Sometimes, that is all it takes to keep the direction toward peace.
Today, Sudan faces its own tipping point, toward peace or war. This is a nation plagued by a conflict in the Darfur region, which is still ongoing. This is a nation also traumatized by a civil war between North and South Sudan which killed 2 million people. This war ended in 2005 with a fragile peace agreement, which will be facing a huge test.
Commitment to community fosters trust and peace in war-ravaged southern Sudan. Father Joseph Otto of St. Theresa Parish in Magwi greets a child after Mass. Photo by Karen Kasmauski for CRS.
The people of Southern Sudan are going to vote on January 9, 2011 whether to stay as part of Sudan, or form their own country. Will the vote be fair and peaceful? There is fear of conflict erupting through this decisive period in Sudanese history. Catholic Relief Services (CRS) is rallying the global community to support peace in Sudan ahead of the January referendum.
Catholic Relief Services knows that food and material aid are vital to this peacebuilding process. They also know you have to go a step further and promote conflict resolution. For Sudan, this is especially crucial. Sudan needs its own ministers of peace at the national and local levels.
John Lindner of Catholic Relief Services recently wrote about building peace in Sudan, “Peacebuilding brings the tribes together to work out their problems and eliminate their fears and anxieties about land use—will we have enough? A lot of times, they simply bring people together to talk. A lot of times, that’s all that’s required. Sometimes you need a well. Sometimes a school. Sometimes you just need a shady spot to meet and work out a plan. One thing you always need: trust.”
CRS believes enough of a peace initiative can at least avert a horrific armed conflict. They have set up a whole campaign dedicated to this goal.
President Obama says, “We all know the terrible price paid by the Sudanese people the last time north and south were engulfed in war: some two million people killed…. The Comprehensive Peace Agreement that ended the civil war must be fully implemented. The referenda on self-determination scheduled for January 9th must take place — peacefully and on time, the will of the people of South Sudan and the region of Abyei must be respected, regardless of the outcome.”
The House and Senate have also sounded their own call for peace in Sudan. This is much-needed support. What will ultimately win the day though for Sudan is its own ministers of peace.