URIs Center for Nonviolence to lead walk in embattled Colombia
Diocese of Providence donates 10,000 rosaries to help stem violence
KINGSTON, R.I. -- April 4, 2002 -- Some people may think that peace doesnt have a prayer in Colombia. Dr. Bernard LaFayette, scholar-in-residence at the University of Rhode Island and director of its Center for Nonviolence and Peace Studies, and the Roman Catholic Diocese of Providence disagree.
To prove it LaFayette, who has been teaching nonviolence methods in Colombia for the past three years, is helping to organize a four-day walk beginning April 17 from Medellin to Caicedo, Colombia, a distance of approximately 120 miles.
The walk is a response to recent violence in Caicedo, a village that has declared itself a nonviolent community. When farmers were bringing their coffee crop to market recently, guerillas confronted them. During the attack, a priest praying the rosary was struck on the head; his rosary beads were yanked out of his hands and thrown in a nearby river.
Guillermo Gaviria, governor of Antioquia, a department (state) in Colombia that includes Medellin and Caicedo, is working to bring about peaceful change to his beleaguered nation. He asked LaFayette what he thought of a walk. The nonviolence guru embraced it.
"We must respond and respond in a nonviolent way," said LaFayette, noting that 500 people are killed each month in Antioqua. "The residents of Caicedo must know that they are not alone in their nonviolence efforts. But," he cautioned, "it is vitally important to say the walk is not against people but for peace. Everyone, including guerillas, is invited to walk."
Seeing the discarded rosary as a symbol, LaFayette sought to replace one rosary with 10,000. He didnt have to look further than the Diocese of Providence to get them.
"The violence that seems so pervasive in Colombia has far reaching effects as we know from the recent murder there of one of our own priests, Father Guillermo Corrales. These rosaries are given as a sign of our support and prayers for lasting peace in Colombia and everywhere in the world," said Msgr. Paul D. Theroux, diocesan moderator of the Curia.
"We want to thank the Diocese for its generosity and commitment to peace," LaFayette said.
The interfaith walk in Colombia will be similar to an Olympic torch relay during which the 10,000 rosaries will be passed from walker to walker until they reach their final destination the priests parish in Caicedo.
The URI scholar-in-residence is accustomed to walks, marches, and sit-ins. A former colleague of Martin Luther King Jr., LaFayette helped lead the Civil Rights Movement during the 60s. On the night before he was assassinated, King told LaFayette the only way to truly achieve peace in the world was to institutionalize it and internationalize it. LaFayette has helped establish the U.S. Institute for Peace in Washington, D.C., nonviolence centers in South Africa, Miami, Detroit, Cuba, Haiti, Minnesota, and is in the process of establishing one in Medellin. He has certified more than 100 trainers of nonviolence in Rhode Island, including fifth graders from Wakefield Elementary School.
"Its tough, but I can see change coming," the peacemaker said of his work in Colombia. "Its inspiring to see the metamorphosis. People are hungry for knowledge. Some guerillas are now embracing nonviolence and beginning to see that its more powerful than arms."
LaFayette is encouraged that other coffee growers have rallied around the Caicedo community and have replaced coffee beans stolen during the attack.
LaFayette will chair a nonviolence world conference in Medellin from April 23 through 26, a few days after the walk. Presenters include Mairead Corrigan Maguire, Nobel Peace Laureate from Belfast, Ireland and Dr. Naomi Tutu, South African activist and daughter of Archbishop Desmond Tutu.
The conference is being funded, in part, by Antioquia, the United Nations, and Spain.
A contingent of people from URI, including President Robert L. Carothers, a security person, a psychology professor, and four students will be in attendance. Rhode Island educator Patricia Martinez will also attend.
Plans are in the works to make Antioquia, a "sister state" to Rhode Island.
For Information: Jan Wenzel, 401-874-2116