Peacemaking Circles and the Ministry of Reconciliation

By Rev. David Kelly, C.PP.S., Executive Director, Precious Blood Ministry of Reconciliation

As Christians, we are called to be ambassadors for Christ and share in his mission of reconciliation.

It is our gratitude for the reconciling power of the blood of Christ which impels those of us who seek to live as ambassadors of reconciliation.  We read: “If anyone is in Christ, they are a new creation.  The old order has passed away; now all is new!  All this has been done by God, who has reconciled us to God’s self through Christ and has given us the ministry of reconciliation.  I mean, that God in Christ, was reconciling the world to God’s self, not counting humankind’s sins against them, and that he has entrusted the message of reconciliation to us.  This makes us ambassadors for Christ, God as it were appealing through us.” (2Cor 5:17-20).

We also read from Ephesians that “It is through Christ and his blood that we have been redeemed and our sins forgiven.” (Eph 1:7)  We place our hope in the promise: “But now in Christ Jesus you who were once far off have been brought near through the blood of Christ.  It is he who is our peace, and who made the two of us one by breaking down the barriers of hostility that kept us apart.” (Eph 2:13-14)

Restorative Justice is a philosophy that embraces and upholds the values of the ministry of reconciliation – the need to be in right relationship.  The values that embody a restorative justice worldview are many of the same values necessary to bring about healing and reconciliation.  These core values are: listening from the heart, truth, respect, safety and confidentiality.  When we focus on these values – and other values that may come from those gathered in circle – we create a safe enough environment where people are free to share their story and hear the story of others.   It is in these safe spaces that we begin to experience reconciliation.

Restorative Justice, like the ministry of reconciliation, focuses on the person(s) that are harmed.  It is not so much an issue-based effort, but one that seeks to create, restore or repair relationships.

Robert Schreiter, a professor at Catholic Theological Union,  cautions us that the work of reconciliation is not easy; it is not predictable.  It calls us to willingly enter into the “muddled mess” of life and confront that which separates us from one another.  But we do so only after we have come to know the story of the one who sits with us.  When we come to know one another first, the harm and/or division doesn’t seem so insurmountable.   When we focus on “who we are” before “what we did,” reconciliation becomes possible.  Restorative justice seeks to see beyond the pain and the division to the human person.

We do not deny the pain, nor do we gloss over it.   Quite the contrary, we openly speak the truth of the harm that has been done and the impact it has caused.  By doing so in the context of safety and truth, we begin to recognize that, while we will never be who we were before the harm, we can become whole again – a new creation. (Robert Schreiter)

It is said that crime or violence is a violation of relationships.  It causes trauma.  Trauma is often hidden behind other behaviors.  It is not always visible.  It tends to intrude and interrupt our lives in varying and unpredictable ways.  Often those who have been harmed retreat and live in isolation.  Friends and family find themselves moving away from once strong and healthy relationships.

The Peacemaking Circle, a practice of restorative justice, is intentional about bringing people into relationship so that the truth of that trauma can be told.  Restorative Justice addresses the harm and seeks accountability.  It is a process that emphasizes honest communication and dialogue.  It is within this space, where truth is told, that we find movement toward healing and reconciliation.

It is for this reason that the Precious Blood Ministry of Reconciliation has embraced the peacemaking circle methodology and places it at the heart of our work.  The circle helps to maintain the focus on relationships and the healing that can be possible.

Peacemaking circles give us an alternative to the more common approach of problem solving using processes that often rely on a hierarchical structure of win-lose positioning, retaliation, and victim/rescuer approaches that often fail to address the true harm.

Derived from aboriginal and native traditions, circles bring people together in a way that creates trust, respect, intimacy, belonging, generosity and mutuality.  Circles intentionally create a sacred space that lifts the barriers between people, opening fresh possibilities for connection and mutual understanding.  Circles are based on a set of common values and principles that allow us to be our authentic selves.  It calls us to see beyond the many false narratives that often cause more harm.

The peacemaking circle is a voluntary process for individuals and communities who wish to engage in healing, support, and understanding.  It is a non-hierarchical process that allows us to bring our full (physical, emotional, mental, and spiritual) selves in honest and truthful dialogue with one another.  It is a process allowing us to come together in way that enables us to see one another as human beings and to talk about what truly matters – reconciling, supporting, healing and celebrating!

Rev. David Kelly, C.PP.S., is the Executive Director of the Precious Blood Ministry of Reconciliation which periodically offers a four-day training program on their calendar for becoming a leader in peace circles in your parish or area. This ministry also publishes Making Choices Magazine, and shares in the charism which created a labyrinth for survivors of abuse (covered here) and a silent video of an evening of reconciliation at the labyrinth.

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