“… it is a question of taking things forward when these communities are ready, are willing to explore and commit to the process of making peace, or at least find an accommodation with their neighbours.”
A reflection by Dr. Michael Comerford, writing from South Sudan.
Many readers will be familiar with the names of Frs. Oliver Noonan and Patrick Devine. Both are SMA missionaries in Kenya working for peace and reconciliation with the Shalom Centre for Conflict Resolution and Reconciliation, which Fr. Patrick founded in 2009 in response to the need for peace following violent and disputed elections in Kenya in December 2007, and to respond to cyclical interethnic violence in northern Kenya.
I have had the honour of serving on the Shalom Board since 2013, and it is from this perspective that I wish to offer some insight on these SMA missionaries, whom I also consider close friends. When I was invited by Fr. Patrick to come on the Board, I was deeply impressed by its vision, professionalism, and the unique approach being applied in conflict environments. It was working to transform issues of conflict and strengthen foundations for sustainable development. At the heart of this process were issues of peace, justice and reconciliation. In addition, it was making great strides in transforming inter-religious dialogue into tangible practical action where commitment to human and ethnic rights became enshrined in relationships.
I have seen Shalom progressively growing into a confident, grounded and professional organisation. Ensuring professionalisation has been a key concern of all involved with the governance and oversight of Shalom, central to building the positive reputation that Shalom enjoys among key funders and supporters.
Great credit is owed to Frs. Oliver and Patrick and the Shalom team for their mission of working to end cycles of violence and conflict through patient concrete responses which support local people find solutions to their own problems and be the architects of their own future. Credit too for their vision of working with government institutions to support the change that has been happening in these remote parts of Kenya and elsewhere, and for bringing so many religious organisations together to work for peace and reconciliation in a more structured and holistic way at the grassroots level.
It is fair to say that they saw the need and potential to do things differently and had the courage and vision to act. I commend them for this act of courage, this act of faith that a different approach to peace and reconciliation could make a real tangible difference in the lives of people so affected by persistent violence. Working to promote peace has opened doors to them to promote education and other development initiatives, which have been warmly received.
As missionaries, working with local communities and organisations, they know the importance of doing things at the right time, of not forcing agendas to suit external timelines or deadlines. Instead it is a question of taking things forward when these communities are ready, are willing to explore and commit to the process of making peace, or at least find an accommodation with their neighbours.
These are sacred processes, at the heart of the Christian message, for which Frs. Oliver and Patrick are to be commended. They of course will say ‘we are only doing what is expected of us’.
Dr. Michael Comerford
We hope to have Dr Comerford write an article shortly about his work for Shalom in South Sudan for the SMA website.