Caring Award Acceptance Speech – Fr P Devine SMA

Fr Padraig Devine SMA gave the following Acceptance speech at the Caring Awards ceremony on Thursday, 31 October 2013 where his work with the Shalom Center for Conflict Resolution and Reconciliation in Kenya was honoured.

I wish to thank Secretary Colin Powell for his opening remarks. I wish to thank the Caring Institute, Senators Bob Dole, Tom Daschle and the Trustees for having bestowed this great honour to me.  Your own contributions to world peace and human rights and dignity is much admired. To the Caring Institute, your respect for the dignity and care of human life is an inspiration.  Never should life be minimized to mankind’s legislative ‘tick of a clock’, the shrinking of responsibility, the fatalism of violence, or the convenience of selfishness. My congratulations to all my fellow awardees; what an inspiration you all are. To my immediate predecessors from the time of Mother Theresa, to his Holiness the Dalai Lama our, prayers and thoughts are with you.  Above all to the ‘Divine Presence’ in, through and with us, thanks. So Friends, SHALOM

I have had many profound experiences during my 25 years as a member of the SMA in Africa, doing development work in remote areas of Eastern Africa, teaching and lecturing in educational institutes, leading the SMA in East Africa and as Chairman/Secretary General for the Religious Superiors Conference, an organization with over 4000 personnel working among the poorest of the poor in Africa particularly in Kenya and the surrounding IGAD countries – (Countries in the North East of Africa) -;  these countries today are experiencing trying times. .  Our sympathy and prayer goes to the President of Kenya,  Uhuru Kenyatta, Catherine Mwangi former Kenya Ambassador to Ireland, and all the other families who suffered the loss of loved ones during the recent terrible tragic violence at the Westgate Shopping Center in Nairobi. They need our support and solidarity. Such violence impacts on all of us and the work of peace building was never more important.

Never did I dream of an occasion like today coming along and especially for the opportunity to sing the song of ‘SHALOM’ and proclaim the peace and development work of its Center for Conflict Resolution and Reconciliation, to the world.  Thank you for this opportunity.  Today, I want you to grasp this reality, to see this vision, to hear its message well, decide where you stand on the issues and hopefully join us in the work. When I decided to initiate a program for conflict resolution, and reconciliation, , particularly focusing on Eastern Africa, I searched around for a name, a concept for that programme and the name “Shalom” sung up from the depths of my soul

I then sought out competent qualified people who had a vocational interest in peace and development.  I found three wonderful qualified East Africans, Rosaline Serem, Dr. Robert Mudida and Professor Wanakayi Omoka, and soon afterward was joined by Oliver Noonan SMA, Michael McCabe SMA, and Dr Michael Comerford, all well versed, with practical experience, in the fields of conflict management, research. development, political science and reconciliation. The Shalom Center for Conflict Resolution and Reconciliation (SCCRR) was launched forth.

As you all know Shalom is an ancient Hebrew word identified with Peace. Its equivalent in Arabic is “Salaam”. This ‘Shalom’, is also at the core of Jesus’s message of reconciliation.  It means more than an insular state of wellbeing or a tranquil disposition. It’s about right relationships; its about a hope of wholeness for the individual, about how we are as community with one another and with God, and its about safe guarding the creation which we have been entrusted with. SHALOM is much more than the absence of violence which is mere negative peace ; it is about positive peace where all side are mutually interested in the wellbeing and development of each other; it is Peace with Justice and harmony holistically integrated. 

I think all of you will agree with me when I say that in conflict environments where people are killed, maimed and displaced persistently social and religious values such as peace, truth, justice and mercy can not take deep root; people can not live normal lives or experience true peace.  Neither can they experience sustained development because periodically schools, hospitals, formation institutions become inoperable or totally destroyed… we will be forever rebuilding them if we do not address the root causes.

Our Vision is of a society where Peace, Social Justice and Reconciliation prevails throughout Africa, and our Mission is to work for a society free of physical violence and unjust social structures in Africa. As Martin Luther King Junior said “Peace is not merely a distant goal we seek, but a means by which we arrive at that goal”.  

The work of Shalom is demanding.  What have we achieved and continue to engage with?

A. Inserting ourselves into dangerous conflict environments, and being accepted and trusted by numerous different parties to conflict, particularly in the area where Kenya, Somalia, Ethiopia, South Sudan and Uganda interface with each other. Millions of people are living there and suffering from the impact of their inter-ethnic conflicts.

If you want peace there is need to rise up from the armchair, move from the pulpit, give a rest to wishful thinking, and begin talking to and engaging your enemies towards a mutually beneficial solution.   

B.  We have trained over 120 of key influential opinion shapers from each conflict ethnic group, and continue to do so, with analytical skill on what is causing their conflict and develop among them vital peace-building techniques necessary for conflict prevention and resolution.  

At the same time,

C.  We carry out in-depth empirically based research into the root causes underpinning the conflicts.  Peace-building policy based on mere conjecture and speculation is a sure basis for inadequate conflict management .

D. In doing the above we journey with conflicting parties to problem-solving workshops oriented to permanent and positive peace.  We engage with the influential opinion shapers within the conflict environments in an attempt to de-legitimize the use of force in solving conflicts.  Nelson Mandela, said “Courageous people do not fear forgiving for the sake of peace” . As some once said, “Theory without Practice is empty and Practice without Theory is blind”.

E.  Education is essential to communities seeking peace and development. We are busy constructing and rehabilitating interethnic schools in the conflict environ.  Where there is no electricity our work is concentrating on providing solar energy to schools, especially in the semi-arid areas where children frequently rely on fire light beside their grass huts to read and write; ith the solar installed they can come back to the schools after dark to Study and /or early in the morning before sunrise.

F.  The SCCRR approach has been endorsed and supported by the 8 countries of IGAD, with a signed MOU between both organizations, particular thanks to Mahboob Maalin,  the Executive Secretary of IGAD.  

G.  Christian and Muslim communities have also endorsed and are collaborating with the process.  

I.  SCCRR Personnel are providing 5 courses on Peace-building in Universities, Colleges in Nairobi.

J.  We have just had enormous success in our work to prevent election violence during the recent elections in Kenya;  we worked with government, civic, and religious institutions to achieve this outcome.

Choices have to be made always between the best short term politics and the right long term policies!! Our work is not about a quick fix, we have put our hands to the plough for the long haul to secure enduring peace.   

Our work is difficult, frequently dangerous, and requires a combination of skill, diplomacy, and extreme patience; some of our friends have lost their lives in the course of their work for reconciliation and development. I remember John Hannon SMA, Sr Anna Nanjala, Gerry Roach SPS and Martin Adai MaF; this award is a tribute to them and also to the hundreds of other unsung heroes, men and women, religious and laity, from inside and outside Africa working today for peace and development.

So, as we gather here today in the USA, in Washington, in “the land of the free and the home of the brave”, let each one of us resolve to do more.  Let me state, unreservedly, from observing many positive interventions of the USA in Africa, I have no reticence in stating, that without the USA presence and contribution in and to Africa, the situation could be a lot worse. Along with Track I diplomacy let us be ever mindful of helping with conflict transformation which ultimately has to come from the grassroots up. The words of the Irish Poet William Butler Yeats has a relevance to Africa and the work of SCCRR, in more ways than he imagined “(And) I shall have some peace there, for peace comes dropping slow, Dropping from the veils of morning to where the cricket sings”

This award is really not about me or you.  It’s about a vision, mission, results and a cause that is worthy of public recognition and committed support We are all called to honor those great people who have gone before us and shed their lives and blood for the causes of liberty, peace and responsibility. The door and the work of the Shalom Center for Conflict Resolution and Reconciliation is awaiting you.   Your engagement with us will yield great fruit for thousands and thousands who are suffering trying to meet basic human needs and actualize their potential.   We are all brothers and sister, a common humanity; no one greater or lesser than the other. 

To my family and the Society of African Missions,(SMA) who helped me to follow a vision, to SCCRR colleagues and supporters who have risen to the vision and task at hand, providing wisdom and finance for the future work of our organization, to all the wonderful people of Africa whom I have had the honor of serving with, as an missionary, for the past 25 years, I say thank you. I humbly accept this prestigious award which ultimately is telling me, to do more to bring about the ‘Divine’ mission of peace and reconciliation in this beautiful world of ours. You Know, we can do it together, when we decide to move out of our comfort zones.  And as the Man from Nazareth said on the occasion of meeting His friends gathered in fear ‘Peace be with you’.

Shalom my friends. Let’s make it a reality, the good news of conflict resolution and reconciliation!