ROME — Msgr. Héctor Fabio Hanao, the national director of Caritas Colombia and president of the Caritas Internationalis Peace and Reconciliation Working Group, has won international renown for his successful work in hostage negotiations with Colombian guerrillas.
Msgr. Fabio Hanao is currently a key player in a Caritas initiative to bring a just and negotiated peace to Colombia — a country bleeding from a 40-year civil war and regarded as the third worst humanitarian crisis in the world after Sudan and the Democratic Republic of Congo. He spoke recently with Register correspondent Edward Pentin in Rome.
What has been the key to the success of your mediation efforts?
Three points were very important to our negotiations. The first was the credibility of the holy Church in Colombia. The people believe in the Church and that was important for the guerrillas — to stay in contact with the Church because the poor people in Colombia know very well the position of the bishops' conference in Colombia in general and the people have a lot of respect for the Church.
The second point was that the message of the Church in Colombia is one in favor of peace. (Colombians) know very well that our position is not in favor of one or the other of the armed groups or the war. But the Catholic Church in Colombia is neutral and in favor of peace. It's working very hard for peace and in favor of the victims. This is important, not just for the kidnapped or hostages but also for the displaced people in the country.
The last point was because we built confidence in the negotiation. The negotiations took more than three months. We had conversations and took a lot of time to build confidence, to stay close to them and to show them that we are very committed to the victims.
So in the end they took the decision at the end to liberate the people because they believe the position of the Church is important for peace.
What has been a major challenge in convincing the conflicting parties to negotiate?
It's difficult to know their goal when they come into contact with us. We must be very careful because we don't know the real purpose of the conversations and what's going on in their minds.
But in principle, we start by having a very strong position in favor of peace and make clear that it's always important to have conversations and dialogue. So even if we're not always clear about their goals, we try to push them into a serious conversation and serious negotiations.
How do you push them?
We try first to convince them that violence is not the way to achieve social reforms in our country. We also try to discover their position, their proposals. It's important to listen for a long time to their ideas, help them have more confidence and to show them that there are other possibilities than using violence.
Is it important that they know that the other side is listening, that you're putting these points across to the opposing parties?
Yes, it's important to know they're listening and well understood by the other one. In my opinion, they feel they have a proposal, something to say and do for the country. And they feel the government and, in general, the institutions are not able to listen to them and not able to have serious talks with them. They feel society, in general, is looking to them just as criminals.
For example, when people speak about the links between drug trafficking and guerrillas and kidnapping people, it's hard to understand and hard to have a conversation in any way. You recognize that, in the beginning, they had political purpose, ideological ideas; it's possible to try to have something.
Do you think the Church has a lot of potential for mediation around the world, but which hasn't been fully realized yet?
I think the Catholic Church in the world has a tradition of negotiation, and it is growing in, for example, Latin America. I think that is important because in the center of the mandate of the Church is the ministry of reconciliation, so the Church must always and everywhere work for reconciliation. Even if you have a lot of people thinking in different ways and it's difficult for them to understand, it is important the Church tries to work on reconciliation, to build bridges.
Pope John Paul II said we are one human family; humanity must grow to be part of the human family. In the end, that is the idea — to convince everybody we are one family and we must try to do something to help the other one in different religions and cultures. To try to help everyone and help them live according to their human dignity.
Would you like to see more Catholics taking an active role in this area?
Yes. Sometimes when you go to high levels in the Church, you can find more people doing work in this area. But when you go to the grass-roots level, to families, neighborhoods, sometimes Catholics don't give that ministry of reconciliation. They are so divided at times. It could be very important in our Church, even at the grass-roots level, if we start living a real commitment to reconciliation. That could be very important, because to have reconciliation in the world doesn't start at the high level but starts from the base, the grass roots.
Do you think the Church should place more emphasis on this part of our faith?
The Church has a mandate which is evangelization, which means celebration, the holy Mass, the sacraments, to preach the Gospel to people, to baptize them. But you have one dimension of this which is very important — the social dimension of the Gospel, and the social dimension of the faith. In that social dimension, you have to work for victims and for reconciliation.
Our Church, and Christians in the world, feel this a lot. We are here to be a witness of reconciliation. Christ gave us reconciliation, and we must cooperate with Christ to be reconciled to one another.