By Sister Edia Lopez
The entire world faces a violent reality: war, death, inequalities, injustice, drugs and corruption. However, in Latin America, all these forms of violence are experienced in a much more intense way, perhaps due to the severe economic crisis our countries are experiencing. There are multiple factors behind the rising violence, which makes it more difficult to address.
As Sisters of Mercy we have sought to hold up non-violence as an alternative, creating an opportunity for all people of goodwill to work towards a society whose goal is to overcome all forms of exclusion, domination and violence.
The Alternatives to Violence Program (known by its Spanish acronym PAV) was implemented in the countries in the Caribbean, Central America, and South America since 2017, and reinforces our commitment to our critical concern of non-violence. PAV participants learn dialogue and listening skills to discover the truth in others, the good that exists in them, and the sincerity to communicate it. It is a preventive program that helps build self-esteem, cooperation, affirmation and communication, while offering tools for conflict resolution.
As Sisters of Mercy we are called to bear witness to justice and love, but sadly we see that the harsh reality of everyday life is working against that: People lack basic rights such as freedom of speech, and daily face other atrocities such as kidnapping, human trafficking, disappearances and murders.
Those who live amidst and react with violence lose hope and come to believe there is no alternative, that promoting non-violence is impossible.
We work to bring the PAV Program to as many people as possible in our communities, creating a training ground for new leaders who promote non-violence, as they learn that when faced with a situation of conflict, it can be overcome through dialogue and love.
Recently, a PAV workshop was conducted in Soloy, an indigenous area in the Ngabe-Bugle region of northern Panama, a place of shared mission with the Vincentian Fathers in Panama. Others have been held in schools in the locality of Volcán, with a total participation of approximately 150 ninth-grade students and small groups of parents.
One very special case is the work done with a small group in the women’s prison in David, the Female Rehabilitation Center (CEFERE).
The disciplinary board of the prison system in the province evaluated the program and allowed us to continue conducting workshops with the inmates. This is an opportunity for women to learn the skills of dialogue and listening, allowing them to discover the truth in others, which involves reflecting on how we, in our own lives, may have betrayed that truth.
Following the path of non-violence means committing to the spirit of truth and accepting the challenge of following Jesus, the perfect example of non-violence.