Published in the Fiji Times - Off the Wall with Padre James Bhagwan 22nd September, 2010
In the midst of the International Day of Peace events yesterday, a vesi (indigenous hardwood) tree was planted by a Fijian peace-builder to symbolise the need for positive peace to be deeply rooted in the hearts of people called to a ministry of peace and reconciliation.
Arieta Koila Costello-Olsson, director of the Suva-based Pacific Centre for Peace-building, and daughter of Navuso, Naitasiri, found herself planting this sapling in her "home soil" as she marked the end of the International Day of Peace and International Day of Prayer for Peace Commemoration at Davuilevu Theological College.
Earlier Ms Costello-Olsson had been the keynote speaker at a forum for theological students, spouses, faculty and invited guests organised by the Pacific Conference of Churches, WEAVERS (the Women Doing Theology Project of the South Pacific Association of Theological Schools) and Davuilevu Theological College organised to mark the IDOP/IDOPP.
The UN International Day of Peace on September 21 takes place, each year, in parallel with the International Day of Prayer for Peace (IDPP).
The UN day is a day on which armed conflict is meant to be stilled, a day for combatants to observe cease-fires, a day on which all people are invited to commit or re-affirm their commitment to non-violence and the peaceful resolution of disputes.
In 2010, the United Nations International Day of Peace, September 21, focuses on youth and development, under the slogan: "Peace = Future".
The day at the college began with the morning devotion following the liturgy (order of worship) specially prepared for the International Day of Prayer for Peace in which the focus was on Africa as part of the final year of the World Council of Churches' Decade to Overcome Violence (DOV).
Ms Costello-Olsson, who is also the Pacific Representative to the DOV Reference group committee since 2008, spoke on the upcoming International Ecumenical Peace Convocation (May 2011, Jamaica) and the end of the Decade to Overcome Violence and the process of peacebuilding in Fiji.
Ms Costello-Olsson shared with those gathered about people, "in our country working hard to build peace in our country and restore the hope that was broken or weakened and to get better at telling the truth."
She went on to say that, "as Church, we are called to give direction and provide a space for healing, sharing, reflection and action for change. Sometimes we are good at doing this for others but we are not good at doing it for ourselves. As we journey to strengthen our recovery processes in our country, it is key that we are taking care of ourselves and being truthful and not projecting our anger or pain but looking within for constructive changes we can take to improve our situations."
As the end of the Decade to Overcome Violence nears, Ms Costello-Olsson called for people to celebrate the steps taken thus far to reduce violence, but also to put up new goals so that "violence is eliminated from our lives and we have real workable strategies in place to do so."
"We must create meaningful beacons or indicators of change so that we can track these improvements or these changes.
"This is key because it is easy to lose hope and give up when things are hard. We all have a serious role and responsibility to work for a positive peace, to strengthen our skills in peacebuilding and conflict transformation and to work within ourselves to serve our people in a better way so that our children have a better future nonviolently."
In his response to Ms Costello-Olsson's address, the Dean of the Holy Trinity Cathedral, the Very Reverend Father Feremi Cama, spoke on the need for non-violent responses to cycles of violence and conflict and the love of God as the core of peace-building.
"Non-violence is not the coward's way. It takes courage to be non-violent. Hatred is a cancer that eats us up inside. We must take ownership of our feelings because we decide to be angry or frustrated or to hate," he said.
femLINK Pacific's Veena Singh-Bryar spoke on the work of femLINK Pacific in empowering women and communities through its communications network and strategies, listening to the stories of the struggles of women at grassroot communities and ensuring that these voices and issues are then taken up and heard at policy and decision-making level in government and civil society.
She also shared on the important work femLINK is doing in the area of United Nations Security Council Resolution 1325 on women, peace and security.
In his welcome to the guest speakers, the principal of Davuilevu Theological College, Rev. Dr. Epineri Vakadewavosa said that the college was excited to be able to play its part in the Decade to Overcome Violence.
"As we try our best to ensure the future ministers of the Methodist Church in Fiji and Rotuma understand the issues affecting the communities in which they serve, we have, over the last few years, introduced courses on globalisation, ecumenism and the issues of both violence against women and HIV and AIDS — the last two using curriculums developed by WEAVERS and SPATS.
From a theological education perspective, it is important to equip our students and future ministers, priests, deaconesses and pastors to be not only peacemakers themselves but to inspire and teach others to be peacemakers. "
The failure of past national reconciliation events because root causes were not identified and actual perpetrators and victims were not involved was discussed during the forum.
Speakers called on the church to take up the challenge and claim its biblical mandate to instigate reconciliation and peace processes that include collective truth-telling.
"As the church, we have to take a long hard look within ourselves to reflect, but we also have to find better ways to deal with things and to tell the truth about ourselves," said Ms Costello-Olsson.
The church — the body of Christ — is called to make, build and share peace.
Of course I refer to all of us as the church. Our call to share the shalom of God is an integral part of being a Christian.
As we strive to be agents of change and apostles of the Good News, our roles as peace sharers and our peaceful approach to conflicts in the family, community and nationally is not merely important but essential to heralding the kingdom of God.
As you go about your day today, I leave you with this pearl of wisdom gleaned from the Peace Forum: "Reconciliation is a place and space where truth, justice, mercy and peace meet."
"Be still, stand in love and pay attention."
Reverend J.S. Bhagwan is a member of the Faculty at Davuilevu Theological College and the Associate Minister of Dudley Methodist Circuit in Suva. This article is the sole opinion of Rev. J.S. Bhagwan and not of this newspaper or any organisation that he is affiliated with. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org