The Third International Exhibition on Peace Initiatives (3e Salon international des Initiatives de Paix) was held this past weekend (May 30-June 1, 2008) in Paris at the Cité des Sciences et de l’Industrie. The exhibition was spread over three floors, offering talks, workshops and about 180 booths with books, posters and opportunities to converse with people representing the many organizations. The themes were as varied as society itself. Some groups are devoting serious time and energy to encouraging us to be at peace with the environment, others are promoting such things as peace and reconciliation with family members, helping students deal with bullying at school, or discovering how peace can be promoted through excellent art or superb cartooning. There were also organizations concerned with justice, peace and nonviolence at the national and international levels, asking us to think seriously about disarmament, the abolition of war and fighting, and about finding ways to get governments to decrease expenditures on military hardware and weapons. Several groups focused on the increasingly severe refugee crisis resulting from war, political turmoil, changes in the environment, and natural disasters. Still other groups are thinking about economic injustices which lead to conflict rather than promote peaceful living.
One of my special interests is how the church (and religion generally) can contribute to the promotion of peace, both within local society and internationally. It was encouraging to see considerable attention being given to these initiatives, whether through individual denominations (e.g., Catholics, Quakers or the Centre Mennonite de Paris), through groups co-sponsored by various churches/denominations interested in ecumenical discussions, or by groups of individuals from within churches (the Franciscan Family or the European group interested in ‘Church and Peace’). Other displays called attention to conflicts in specific geographic areas, such as Israel/Palestine or Rwanda.
There is considerable interest in the promotion of peace through the public schools in Paris (or at least quite a few teachers took the time and energy to bring their classes), so it was wonderful seeing hundreds of orderly high school and junior high school students wandering through the exhibitions, taking part in impromptu theatre in the aisles, watching a puppet show on the history of the atom bomb, or sitting in small groups while their teachers led them through their reflections about what they had just learned about peace initiatives. If only this sort of education could be introduced with the same intensity in North America.