On Sunday, 15 October, in Townsville, Australia, a Peace Agreement was signed by all parties to the conflict which has plagued Guadalcanal in the Solomon Islands for almost two years. A month earlier, a Cease-fire Agreement had been signed and although there were several notable breaches of that agreement, it was followed by a concerted effort for a comprehensive peace treaty.
The treaty provides for a weapons amnesty in return for the surrender of weapons within a stated period; a general amnesty for offences committed in the course of the war; the return of the militants of both sides to their home villages and provision for their rehabilitation; the restructuring of the Police Force; the establishment of a Peace and Reconciliation Committee and a Peace Monitoring Council (comprising unarmed personnel from Australia, New Zealand, and perhaps some other Pacific Islands nations). Various key provisions of the Peace Agreement addressed the root causes of the unrest - land ownership issues and matters relating to development.
On the Thursday following the signing of the Agreement, Honiara, the capital, witnessed a great procession comprising militants from both sides of the dispute marching into Honiara, without weapons, and embracing one another in the streets. Tears of joy abounded and for the next few days Honiara was in 'party mode'.
To date, no breaches of the Agreement have been reported. Weapons are being handed in to various receiving points throughout the island and a very positive note seems to permeate the whole population.
Asked how this peace accord had finally been achieved, the Archbishop of Melanesia, the Most Reverend Sir Ellison Pogo, KBE, who has been a key figure in negotiations at all levels and was in Townsville for the peace negotiations, said, "There is only one answer - by prayer." He went on to say, "Look at what happened. There were diplomatic moves to heal the rift. They failed.
There was any number of efforts at a political level. They failed. There were appeals along humanitarian lines. They, too, failed. But all the time, the people were building up a body of prayer to a great crescendo. It happened at public worship on Sundays and weekdays. It happened in small groups of people who met together in the towns or villages. It happened by individuals wherever they happened to be - falling to their knees and praying for peace. And it happened throughout the world. I am totally convinced - in fact it is so obvious to see - that the real broker of this peace has been our Lord himself in response to the prayers of the people."
The Archbishop went on to thank friends of the Church of Melanesia throughout the world for their prayers and their messages of encouragement. "It has been most encouraging to us to know that people all over the world were united with us in prayer for peace. This has been one of the good things to have come out of the troubles that have beset us in the recent past - the awareness of the support of our friends."
Another aspect of the lead-up to the signing of the Peace Agreement is the role played by the Anglican Religious Orders on Guadalcanal - The Melanesian Brotherhood, the Community of the Sisters of Melanesia, the Community of the Sisters of the Church and the Society of St. Francis. The way in which the Brothers and Sisters moved fearlessly and freely across battle lines, calming tempers, settling nerves, caring for the dead and wounded, sewing 'seeds for peace', was quite remarkable and a very major contributing factor to the ultimate peace signing.
On the Sunday following the signing of the Peace Agreement, an ecumenical service of Thanksgiving was held in St. Barnabas' Anglican Cathedral in Honiara. The Cathedral was filled by approximately 3,000 people with probably more than that number outside, hearing the Service from loud speakers. It was an inspiration. Archbishop Pogo delivered a powerful sermon based on Romans 6:15-23 ('slaves to sin/righteousness'). "We have been through a most painful experience. The whole country has shared in the pain and suffering," he said. "Now let us put it all behind us and turn to God. Let our lives be as slaves to Christ, and in Christ let us find the righteousness that God gives us."
Then the two warring parties, one after the other, stood and asked forgiveness of God and absolution was pronounced jointly by the Heads of Churches. The parties then turned to the congregation and asked for, and received, the forgiveness of the people. This was followed by the passing of the Peace of God - a most meaningful act which brought forth many tears and much joy.
Representatives of both warring factions carried forward copies of the Peace Agreement and these were received and blessed by the Church Leaders as if to 'seal' the Agreement.
Asked how it could be that two militant groups who were fighting each other to the death just a short time ago could now be so reconciled with each other, Archbishop Pogo commented,
"In our culture and because of our faith, forgiveness, absolution and reconciliation are very real concepts. I am not surprised that visitors find this hard to understand. But I must admit that, in this case, the U-turn has been so total, so complete, that we have even surprised ourselves."
Next Sunday, 12 November, a Service of Reconciliation for the Royal Solomon Islands Police Force will be held in St. Barnabas' Cathedral. The Police Force virtually collapsed during the crisis when some members joined one or other of the warring factions, others returned to their home islands and eventually a 'Joint Operation' between the Police Force and the Malaita Eagle Force was formed to maintain the security of Honiara, the capital.
"It will take many years to rebuild the crippled economy of the Solomon Islands and to get the infrastructure back to what it was before the problems started," said Archbishop Pogo, "but with God so obviously present in the Peace Agreement, maybe we can expect a few miracles in the restoration process!"