FEATURE: Rondine, the ‘School’ of Leaders for Peace

Franco Vaccari’s Dream Became a Reality Amid Tuscan Beauty & Its Appeal Launched Today in Rome

Franco Vaccari - Copyright: Exaudi / Deborah Castellano Lubov
Franco Vaccari - Copyright: Exaudi / Deborah Castellano Lubov

The scenery is that of Tuscany’s famous countryside, not far from Arezzo. Some say the background of Leonardo da Vinci’s famous “Mona Lisa” is in fact the view enjoyed by those that appear at the windows of Rondine, in Italy’s natural reserve of Ponte Buriano.

This place is a small village around a castle dating back to the 11th Century. In 1977, it was about to collapse, until a group of the area’s young people arrived in Rondine, armed with shovels and pickaxes, to give life back to the buildings.

How It All Began

The leader of the young people was then-24 Franco Vaccari. Born in Arezzo, not only is he a psychologist and professor of psychology, he is a great supporter of the cause for peace, dialogue between peoples and educating young people. If you ask him what his intention was, he answers simply “to find a place to have a community experience open to young people and to the poor.”

His first source of inspiration was Giorgio La Pira (1904-1977), the so-called “Holy Mayor” of Florence, given his commitment to the poor and world peace. Today, Vaccari is 69 and has a long resume, rich of awards, but not only professional ones.

Rondine has become an international organization — “Rondine Citadel of Peace” –, committed against all armed conflict and to spread its “creative” method to respond to any conflict, whether interpersonal or global.

In 2018, on the occasion of the 70th anniversary of the Universal Declaration of the Rights of Man, the Italian Minister of Foreign Affairs proposed, at the Rondine Citadel of Peace, to represent the country to take to the United Nations his own experience as a “concrete example to restart on the great theme of human rights.” Rondine responded to the call launching the Leaders for Peace Global Campaign. At its center is the Appeal, written by Rondine students and alumni, to request UN Member States for a concrete commitment in the formation of young leaders of peace.

Also following two important international events held at the United Nations headquarters in New York in 2018 and 2019, and of numerous other international events and initiatives, the campaign was honored to receive moral support from President Mattarella of the Italian Republic, Pope Francis, and from various Republics and organizations of the International Community.

Rondine’s houses host young people from all over the world, in particular from countries in conflict between themselves. In such cases, the young people spend a period of two years there, studying at the university and following an articulated formative course. Thus, in 23 years of activity, Rondine has formed at least 200 leaders for peace, through the start of the COVID19 health emergency.

The first guests, in 1977, were three Chechen and two Russian young people, three years exactly after the war in the Caucasus between Russia and Chechnya (a region within Russia with separatist tendencies; it is not an autonomous state.) Needless to say, it wasn’t an easy beginning.

Franco Vaccari still remembers a harsh clash one night with Chechen young men. “We want to leave.” “Why?” “Because we don’t want to use the same washing machine as the Russians. We don’t want to wash our clothes in their dirty water!” “After a year of beautiful statements on peace, you want to leave because of a washing machine?” “Yes, we do, if we’re not given another washing machine.”

“Well then go, if it’s what you want,” Vaccari responded, noting: “Rondine is not made for public declarations of peace. Rondine is made for those ready to wash their clothes in the enemy’s dirty water.”

However, Vaccari was not discouraged. A few years later, another Chechen and Russian arrived, and they became such friends that they later started a leather import-export company. In short, even if the happy ending is not always guaranteed, there are boys that “have such beautiful memories that later they come back to visit us. They are businessmen, teachers, journalists and politicians. A former student of Rondine became Foreign Vice-Minister of Abkhazia. We don’t want to recruit pacifist activists. We want to form people who then commit themselves to spread a mentality of peace regardless of the job they do later,”  Vaccari says.

Daily life in Rondine is very modest. Twin bedded rooms, common areas for study and meals. The spoken language is Italian, which all must learn, precisely to make young students meet through a new language, especially in case they belong to peoples divided by enmity. The food served is chosen respecting the rules of the religion of every guest.

The Rondine Citadel enjoys the friendship and support of the Catholic Church, from the Diocese of Arezzo to the Holy See. However, not all its young guests are Catholics or Christians. The religious argument isn’t ‘censured’ in Rondine. “We talk about God as everyone should always talk about Him, as source of inspiration and peace, because whoever uses religion to make war commits a sacrilege.”

Thanks to the contribution of donors and benefactors, the “Citadel of Peace” can also welcome young people lacking economic means. And the beauty of the scenery and of the history of the place is a great help. “Young people say to us: How lucky to live in Tuscany! We have put the best of Tuscany at the service of the world and of peace,” Franco Vaccari says with pride.

First Concrete Step in the Post-Pandemic Restart

Today, June 14, marking the restart of the ‘Leaders for Peace’ campaign of the Rondine’s young people, there was an important presentation of the global campaign the diplomatic corps accredited to the Holy See, and guests present at the Italian Embassy to the Holy See, including Exaudi.

After being the first signatory in 2019, Italy continues its commitment to this campaign, placing itself on the side of young students of the Rondine Citadel of Peace in the post-pandemic restart. The initiative, organized by the Embassy of Italy to the Holy See, together with the Rondine Citadel of Peace, responded to the need to make a concrete gesture to spread a culture of peace.

In addition, it intended to draw attention once again to the message of these young people who experienced in their own skin, hatred, armed conflict, and deceit, but which–through the Rondine Method–they have been able to transform.

Equipped with this tool, they are better equipped to combat old international conflicts that the pandemic seems to have brought back, as well as new conflicts that will lacerate the global society.

Appeal of the Young People

Therefore, in an adamant appeal from Palazzo Borromeo, the young people of Rondine asked different countries to endorse the Appeal for Peace of the Leaders for Peace campaign, namely “for a concrete commitment in the formation of young leaders for peace, able to intervene in the principal contexts of conflict in the world.”

Moreover, they call for “the insertion of teaching of and educating about human rights in national education systems, integrated with the experiences of the Rondine Method, on the creative transformation of conflicts, which has enabled them to become ambassadors of peace.”

Appealing along with these young people, are the participants in the Mediterranean Frontier of Peace project, supported by the Italian Episcopal Conference (CEI) and carried out in collaboration with Italian Caritas and the Rondine Citadel of Peace, which dedicates itself to launching projects with social impact in their dioceses. It embraces collaborations designed to develop networking actions in the whole Mediterranean.

Today’s event promoted this new commitment to understand how to “reinforce immediately, through the values of the Leaders for Peace campaign and a common peace effort, the construction of that post-pandemic tomorrow,” namely which is “sustainable, just, inclusive, free from further social and armed conflicts, which our young people build with their daily commitment.”

The public was able to follow the event via streaming on the Facebook pages of the Embassy of Italy to the Holy See and of the Rondine Citadel of Peace.

To start, there were institutional greetings from Ambassador of Italy to the Holy See, Pietro Sebastiani, and President and Founder of Rondine – Citadel of Peace, Franco Vaccari.

Those speaking included Monsignor Miroslaw S. Wachowski, Under-Secretary of the Section for Relations with States, Vatican Secretariat of State; George Poulides, Ambassador of Cyprus to the Holy See; Federico Zamora Cordero, Ambassador of Costa Rica to the Holy See; Monsignor Stefano Russo, Secretary General of the Italian Episcopal Conference; Nnaemeka Phil Eke-Okocha and Sara Dukic, Rondini d’Oro (Alumni of Rondine); Amira Kalem and Amina Šurković, Participants in the project Opera Segno – Mediterranean Frontier of Peace; Stefania Mancini, Vice-President of the International Assistance Foundation (FAI). Two students of Rondine read the campaign’s appeal at the event’s conclusion.

The event was moderated by Patricia Thomas, AP News Correspondent who is member and served as recent president of the Foreign Press Association in Rome.

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For More Information:

The Leaders for Peace Campaign – https://leadersforpeace.rondine.org/

Rondine Citadel of Peace – www.rondine.org