Irish and South Africans invited to learn about reconciliation together

By staff writers
May 3, 2007

The people of Ireland can share the lessons of reconciliation learned by South Africans, the general secretary of the World Council of Churches, the Rev Dr Samuel Kobia, has said in a visit to Ireland.

In fact the northern Irish peace process, bringing together rival nationalist and unionist groups (who dispute the province's ultimate political allegiance) drew on the behind-the-scenes conflict transformation work of civic and church groups from both countries.

Dr Kobia, who is a Methodist from Kenya, was speaking after leading a seminar on Reconciliation and the Healing of Memories' at the Irish School of Ecumenics in Dublin.

Among those present were the Most Rev John Neill, Anglican archbishop of Dublin in the Church of Ireland, and his Roman Catholic counterpart, Archbishop Diarmuid Martin.

The meeting is part of a WCC team visit coordinated in cooperation with Churches Together in Britain and Ireland (CTBI).

"The way South Africa went through the process towards peace and reconciliation I think could be relevant to the situation in Ireland," Dr Kobia told Ecumenical News International after the seminar. "I would clearly recommend that the Irish people try to learn from the people of South Africa."

Dr Kobia heads the world's largest ecumenical association of churches. The WCC was established in 1948 to promote Christian unity in faith, witness and service to the world - following the tragedy of the Second World War. The visit to Dublin came during his 12-day trip to England, Scotland, Wales and both parts of Ireland.

"His themes, which are very much on reconciliation and forgiveness, are very much an area that we are exploring, and one of the key areas is how you deal with the aftermath of generations of division and violence in this land", Anglican Archbishop Neill told ENI.

"I think he brought out very clearly that its very easy for someone to say 'I forgive' - there is such a thing as cheap forgiveness - but in fact real forgiveness is very difficult to offer."

Martin remarked: "Ireland is a place of inter-religious tension but also has always been a workshop of reconciliation." He noted: "The experience that the World Council of Churches has gathered over the years is extremely rich."

The Catholic archbishop remarked: "[I]t's also extremely important that we be encouraged never to give up hope in the task that we're all working together about coming to a form of unity among the churches, but also working together as much as we can on the level of unity we have achieved, to witness the love of Jesus Christ in a world which is very torn and where we need more reconciliation."

A commentator from South Africa told Ekklesia that churches in her country can also learn lessons from the Irish in their struggle to overcome violence and to heal memories.

In the run-up to the Northern Ireland peace process, private workshops on alternative approaches to conflict were held in South Africa for the benefit of protagonists on both sides of the often bitter and violent loyalist-nationalist divide.

With thanks to Ecumenical News International ( and Ray McMenamin, from whom this report was sourced and is partly reproduced.

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