WEAVING PEACE IN A RIFT VALLEY

Rev. Fr.  Dr.  Cornelius Afebu Omonokhua

Director: Mission and Dialogue

Catholic Secretariat of Nigeria, Abuja

                                               

Introduction

 

In May 2010, I attended a peace building training workshop at the Aberdare Country Club, Nyeri –Kenya. This training was facilitated by Catholic Relief Services (CRS) for the Anglophone West African.  Archbishop Peter Kairo, the Catholic Archdiocese of Nyeri in his opening speech emphasized the pain of crisis. For him, “the victims most affected by the absence of peace are families” who are torn apart inAfricaas a result of war, terrorism that result in displacement of people into refugee camps. In moment of crisis, victims of war and violence use to take refuge in places of worship. InNigeriatoday, some people are even afraid to attend their normal regular hours of worship for fear of bomb explosions.  This is a big threat to the future of African values of hospitality and community thatAfricais known for.  The training inNyeri,Kenyaended with a wonderful phrase: “weaving peace in a rift valley”. This means that every normal person should enroll in “peace building project” to save our religions and our nations.

 

It is very interesting that some Nigerian past presidents have broken silence in the face of the security challenges inNigeria. I pray for their honesty and sincerity. I read with enthusiasm the front page of Sunday Trust of July 22, 2012: “Army, Police Rivalry Stalls Talks with Boko Haram- The untold story of Governor Shettima, IGP, DSS peace talks with 11 Boko Haram commanders”. What a bold and courageous effort, a good beginning of weaving peace inNigeria’s “rift valley”. This effort should continue since “the blind eye is not opened with only one attempt. Who knows if that effort will one day beam a radiant light on this rift valley and liberate us from this night mare? Peace is deeper than the mere absence of war. Peace is an antidote that is capable of healing all forms of conflicts that has injured memories and wounded hearts. Different religious traditions claim to be ambassadors of peace. Unfortunately, the practice does not prove the claims. So what does peace mean to a Christian and a Muslim in the context of our traditional values and cultural milieu?

 

Scriptural basis for Peace Building

 

Perhaps to build capacity for peace, we can once more reflect on what the Holy Books and the prophets teach us about peace. In the Old Testament, God is personified as peace. Isaiah painted a picture of a time where the lion and the lamb would live together and the child plays with a cobra. Those who will bring about this type of peace are children of God: Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called Children of God” (Matthew 5, 9).  This effort needs divine courage and energy: Come to me, all who labour and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light” (Matthew 11, 28-30).  This is the gift of Jesus to us: Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you. Not as the world gives do I give to you. Let not your hearts be troubled, neither let them be afraid” (John 14, 27). Jesus was aware of the persecution that the Church would go through: I have said these things to you, that in me you may have peace. In the world you will have tribulations. But take heart; I have overcome the world” (John 16, 33). At last, Jesus imparted his final blessing and greeting as a model for Christians: “Peace be with you” (John 20, 19).

The Arabic word salaam (سلام) is synonymous to the word “Islam”. In order words, intra-personal peace is attained by utterly submitting to Allah. Once this peace is attained, every body around the individual is guaranteed peace. It follows therefore that a Muslim is endowed with the interior peace that must be extended to any person irrespective of faith. Al-Naim, Abdullahi Ahmed (1990) observed that peace and peacemaking are seen in Islamic tradition as part and parcel of human development. In Islam peace and making peace are seen as Godly acts worthy of praise and reward. Sahih Bukhari says that in Islam peace is advocated as a divine quality to be pursued in order to achieve the state of felicity that we were in paradise, man’s former dwelling. Quran states in  Al Maidah : “O ye who believe! stand out firmly for Allah, as witnesses to fair dealing, and let not the hatred of others to you make you swerve to wrong and depart from justice. Be just: that is next to piety: and fear Allah. For Allah is well-acquainted with all that ye do”!

Peace building Techniques.

 

How I wish these teachings from the Holy Books can touch terrorists to join the project of weaving peace in our rift valley? The result would make peace flow like a river   into the desert of our heart to send the captives free?  Peace building is like a tree planted by the river side. Many generations reap the fruits of its endurance. The seeds of this tree are a symbol of the capacity to prevent conflict, reconcile people in conflicts and plan strategies and skills that can help the human person for a very long time. This will finally help the community and the society to have a sustainable peace. We can actually plant and sustain a peaceful coexistence at all levels especially ethnic and religious harmony in our world especially now that many people are becoming very interested in preaching peace.

 

Weaving peace in a rift valley is the space to create principles for a sustainable capacity to integrate all levels of intervention in conflict prevention and management. This project calls for leaders who can identify peace builders who must resist the temptation to take sides in contributing to the larger justice and peace issues. Our present peace project needs experts who must act locally and think globally not however undermining the fact that no single level, activity, person, organization is able to bring peace in isolation of other people. This means that we need a national peace structure that will coordinate all these collaborative efforts. This must include integrating people, roles and activities akin to the spider web (a combination of threads and strand); flexible strong and resistant. This needs people who have the heart for promoting relationships between people who are not like-minded but who are interdependent. We must note however that there is a difference between Human right activism and peace building.  Our peace initiatives must survive us by creating functional structures. This structure must have the capacity to be proactive in responding to emerging issues while reinforcing longer and larger change process. It follows that we can not fold our hands when we see problems emerging. “It is not my business often turns to every bodies business”.