Blessed are the peacemakers
Good is stronger than evil
Light is stronger than darkness
Love is stronger than hate
Life is stronger than death
Victory will be ours because Jesus loves us!
This prayer, from Desmond Tutu, began and ended the session in the Spouses Conference on ‘Charged to be God’s peacemakers: situations of conflict’. Led by the Melanesian Brothers and Riding Lights and Chaired by Mary Good, the spouse of the Bishop of Derry and Raphoe, this session was both energetic and moving.
Mary Good, originally from Seattle, has lived in Northern Ireland for many years. She spoke of the fact that her Diocese spans two countries and that only now is the Diocese beginning for the first time to experience the benefits of peace following the conflict in Northern Ireland. They were used, she said, to carrying two currencies and living in two countries where the Church is one of the only things that crosses the Border.
She said that the people of Northern Ireland were called to be peacemakers and that the story of the people of the Solomon Isles resonated with her experiences in Northern Ireland.
Those who told the story from the Solomon Isles were from the Franciscan Brothers, the Melanesian Brothers, the Sisters of Melanesia and the Sisters of the Church. The Melanesian Brothers take three year renewable vows, not life vows, and they pray seven times a day.
Taking turns to speak, the members of the Chaplaincy Team who were from Melanesia went on to describe that the Solomon Islands had been a happy place but that trouble began when an extremist group became increasing angered by the land owning and prosperity of an immigrant group from Malaita.
Trouble started in 1999 and there were soon 20,000 refugees.
The Brothers began to wonder what they could do and started to ban anyone coming onto their property if they were carrying weapons. They also renewed their commitment as Brothers who came from the two different groups and continued to live and work together. No one trusted the police and the community increasingly turned to the Brothers and Sisters for help.
Gradually the Brothers became convinced that they should do more than just ban weapons and a group of twenty went to live in the ‘no man’s land’ between the warring tribes. They were allowed to cross enemy lines and tried to bring a message of peace.
The Sisters visited them and bought food. Eventually using their truck to ferry the injured and the dead, not one of the community were killed or hit by a bullet at this time.
Finally, peace was made and there were three days of celebration but the Brothers soon learned that violence never stops when weapons remain in young people’s hands.
After much prayer the Brothers began to help with disarming the nation. A radio advertisement was aired and the calls began to come in and the number of weapons that the Brothers collected increased dramatically. People came to them saying ‘I want to change, pray for me’.
Sadly, though, people began to suggest that the Brothers had taken sides with the Government and one of the Brothers, Nathaniel Sado, was taken hostage. Six more Brothers went to search for him and none of them returned. The Revd Richard Carter, the Chaplain to the Brothers, who was telling the story, said that the community prayed and held a constant vigil for their lost Brothers.
Finally, other Governments became involved and in August 2003 the Brothers discovered that their missing Brothers had all been tortured and accused of being spies and executed.
Richard Carter said, ‘Events like these happen to real people’ and named each of the seven who had died and told the group a little about each of them. They were: Richard Lindsay, Francis Tofi, Tony Sirihi, Patteson, Ini Pavatabatu and Alfred Hill.
He went on to spell out the learnings that the community had made through this terrible event and to speak of it as a turning point for the islands. The whole community stopped, he said, and the funerals which he had to organise had caused everyone to move towards peace.
Following this - and a standing ovation by the spouses - the Riding Lights Theatre Group presented a dramatic interpretation of the Good Samaritan.
The spouses then had the opportunity to share their own stories and reflections on what they had heard before moving on into Bible Study groups.