Book Review: Catholic Peacebuilding and Mining

By Selina Gallo-Cruz

Montevecchio, Caesar A. and Powers, Gerald F. Eds. 2022. Catholic Peacebuilding and Mining: Integral Peace, Development, and Ecology. London: Routledge. ISBN 9780367545086. £ 120.00.

Reviewer: Selina Gallo-Cruz, PhD, College of the Holy Cross

With express concern that wars of the future will be fought over access to minerals, it is time we all pay more attention to extractive politics. A new volume on the topic edited by Gerald Powers and Caesar Montevecchio, the respective directors of Catholic Peacebuilding Studies and the Catholic Peacebuilding Network at the University of Notre Dame, provides an invaluable resource. In Catholic Peacebuilding and Mining, Church leaders, theologians, peace scholars, and practitioners, all experts in the field, bring us an engaging and in-depth exploration of the Church’s role in protecting the most vulnerable communities affected by mining around the world. The volume contains two sections, the first exploring a sample of illustrative cases, and the second providing an exegesis on how Church teachings guide us to respond to the industry’s ongoing itinerant involvement in inequities, displacement, poverty, war, and violence. 

From the World Bank’s strategic push to open public lands in Africa to foreign investment in the 1990s, through the industry’s direct involvement in terrible civil wars, to a recent and tragic spike in the targeting killings of anti-mining activists, the contributors note how the Church has often been one of the strongest and most powerful advocates for affected communities. Scholars interested in learning more about third-party solidarity will appreciate the many compelling elaborations of how the Church community has been a strong ally in consciousness raising, education and movement building, lobbying, building multi-level alliances, facilitating dialogue and consensus, and influencing and inspiring political will to protect the environment. Readers will appreciate the comparative insights gained from diverse and important cases of countries where mining has long been foundational to the political economy like Peru, from countries that have successfully resisted new mining contracts as in El Salvador, and from case studies of countries that have experienced dramatic shifts in how they manage concession agreements, like the Philippines and the Democratic Republic of Congo. The volume also boldly confronts some of the most difficult paradoxes that pervade both the industry and the infrastructure of modern life that it sustains. Many of the chapters draw on Laudato Si, the Church’s encyclical on care for our common home, calling out the cultural foundations of exploitation and environmental degradation, the rapidification of modern life, the technocratic paradigm, excessive anthropocentrism, rampant individualism, maximizing profits and self-interested pragmatism. Finally, although rooted in a Catholic framework on peacebuilding, readers also learn about interfaith dialogue and allied advocacy with the international network of Engaged Buddhists, the Church of England, the Episcopal Church, Allied Religions for Conservation, and the G20 Interfaith Forum. Indeed, there seems to be a freedom in claiming a moral commitment to clearly defining what is good for the earth and good for the human community intrinsically dependent on our one precious and finite planet. Catholic Peacebuilding and Mining gives us a strong start to developing the field from such a place of moral courage, one enlightened by rigorous historical and ethnographic study.

This text will make a valuable addition to a number of different kinds of courses. Certainly, Catholic colleges and universities will want to include it in Theology and Religious Studies Courses and I expect to see it on a number of Peace and Conflict Studies and Environmental Studies syllabi in courses that take a social science approach. 

From the perspective of social movements study, this book offers an important glimpse into how and why religious communities constitute essential “free spaces” for doing the kinds of organizing and advocacy work other political actors are unable to. Their respected authority often shields them from repression, a dynamic I have explored in my own work on women’s strategic use of “political invisibility”. Catholic leaders and organizers’ long-standing ties with and dedication to local communities also gains them the confidence of acting in ways social movement scholars have noted as unique to indigenous community organizations. Finally, religious leaders and community workers bring an explicit moral commitment to these issues that alters the terms of negotiations and advocacy in a way that secular approaches cannot. This merits much more consideration among social movements scholars and I believe it will generate enlivening discussion in the classroom. 

I hope to see a follow-up conversation on how other faith perspectives view the issue of mining and peace and conflict. I believe that the point of contemplating humans’ place among other species as described herein in different ways merits further attention in the field—some authors praise God’s commandment to humans to manage the earth’s resources while others emphasize the sin of usury and the harms caused by conspicuous consumption and global capitalism. Future discussion may foment new insights on the rights of the industry to continue to expand with known risks to vulnerable ecosystems for practitioners as it may also help scholars to expand inquiry into clarity over the ontologies that undergird different stakeholders’ responses. Indeed, there have been many attempts in environmental law, as of late, to expand the rights of living places and the non-humans who inhabit them and the field of ecology has long nurtured a more-than-humanist approach that embraces humans as part of but not lords over the earth and its other inhabitants. Finally, I also hope to see that the book galvanizes new reflective analysis in peace studies where an orientation to environmental peacebuilding is giving growing attention to mining conflicts, but has thus far followed a conciliatory working relationship with the development as growth model that many now call into question.  


Selina Gallo-Cruz is Associate Professor of Sociology at College of the Holy Cross in Worcester, Massachusetts and author of Political Invisibility and Mobilization: Women against State Violence in Argentina, Yugoslavia, and Liberia as well as many other peer-reviewed articles and book chapters on peace and conflict and women’s studies.