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Welby: Empower young people to be agents of peace, building bridges

21 July 2023

YOUNG people have the power to be agents of peace in communities — and must be empowered to do so, the Archbishop of Canterbury told an audience of educators, youth workers, and others working with young people.

Life was “what is offered by reconciliation”, Archbishop Welby told the audience. “Life is something that . . . those coming to adulthood in their twenties and thirties must grasp and share — life grasped from God’s open hands, reconciliation spread across the world so that enemies become at worst merely competitors.

“War is replaced with the tedious beauty of negotiations and settlements and sorrow and reparations, and the great war against our planet becomes the campaign to heal it and offer life to future generations as yet unborn.”

Archbishop Welby was speaking during a lecture on reconciliation, delivered at King’s House, London, on 6 July, as part of the Difference programme, in which he paid tribute to the passion and commitment of today’s young people. “The generation growing up now is not a snowflake generation — as some of the press would portray it. What a myth! What a lie!” he said.

“Research shows that the generation known as ‘Gen Z’ places a high value on diversity and prioritises social activism, with 70 per cent involved in a social or political cause.”

And he continued: “One thing which particularly stands out is the deep commitment of Gen Z to important values — values of tolerance, justice, and equity. But we know that young people are navigating a world which is complex, divided, and hurting.”

It was “scandalous” that so many young people lived against a backdrop of violence, and that they lacked alternative models for dealing with conflict, which he defined as ranging from something “as simple as being cancelled, to extreme domestic, civil, or international violence. Across the world, more than 600 million young people . . . [live] in fragile and conflict-affected contexts and it is estimated that one in four young people alive today are affected by violence or armed conflict.

“Research by the UN has highlighted how violent conflict ‘distorts the life cycle progress’ of young people, sometimes forcing them to take on adult roles prematurely or closing off opportunities for education and employment.

“While we pray that future generations will inherit something better, this is reality for those coming into adulthood today. We need to equip and empower them to know how to deal with complexity, build relationships, and cross divides — with confidence and perseverance. We need to resource them as peacemakers.”

The work of resourcing young people as peacemakers required honesty about one’s own ignorance, and “inviting young people to educate us and to challenge us”, he concluded.

“It’s not easy to build peace. The image of the peacemaker is of Jesus, on a cross — that’s what peace-making is. Arms stretched out on either side. Building bridges, being a bridge between people, and, as a friend of mine says, ‘If you become a bridge, people walk all over you.’”

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