By Jerry and Marita Grudzen
The Maryknoll Fathers and Brothers Society Center in Nairobi provided hospitality, room, board and conference facility for most of 35 participants in a five day interfaith conference held at the Maryknoll Society Center, Columbia University Africa Regional Center and the Light Academy in Nairobi from August 10-14 , 2015.
The purpose of the conference was to orient primary and secondary school teachers from diverse areas of Kenya to the potential for interfaith based religious education as a vehicle for peace building in Kenya.
The Maryknoll Sisters based in Kenya, Giang Nguyen, Sia Temu and Teresa Hougnon, brought a group of teachers, a local Imam and Madrasa Teacher to the conference from the Tana River Delta area. This was particularly significant because this area of Kenya has experienced intense recent intercultural conflict with many fatalities. The sisters have used a conversational method of intercultural and interfaith dialogue, marked by outreach, inquiry, humility and commitment, which has been extremely fruitful in bringing people together to resolve their conflicts in the Tana River Delta region. These conflicts over water and land had escalated to violent attacks resulting in many deaths. The humble, skillful conversational approach of the Maryknoll Sisters Peace team shines as a model for peace building.
Judy Walter, a Maryknoll Lay Missioner in Mombasa, Kenya and Marita Grudzen, led a workshop on Spirituality and Service within the interfaith context. The participants identified over 20 expressions of spirituality and shared stories of community service and personal transformation in small groups as part of the workshop.
Judy Walter has served as a volunteer nurse in Bangladesh, in India, and now manages St. Patrick’s Clinic in the Bangladesh slum of Mombasa, Kenya. She studied interfaith spirituality with Dom Bede Griffith at his ashram in India and will be a founding member of the Lake House of Prayer in Tanzania. The house is sponsored by the local archbishop, the Maryknoll Fathers and Brothers and the Maryknoll Lay Missioners. Judy brings her training in Clinical Pastoral Education, Spiritual Direction, Hospice Chaplaincy and years of contemplative practice.
Father Lance Nadeau, MM, gave two presentations during the week. He first spoke on the Challenges and Opportunities for Interfaith and Intercultural Dialogue in Kenya. Later in the week he spoke on the historical and sociological context of Youth Radicalization in Kenya. Father Nadeau works with youth as the Catholic chaplain at Kenyatta University in Nairobi and has studied the problems facing Muslim youth in Kenya. He is also the Regional Superior for the Maryknoll Fathers ad Brothers in East Africa and has had diverse interfaith experiences in Muslim communities of the Middle East, such as in Cairo, Egypt.
The entire course brought together representatives of the four major faith traditions in Kenya: Christianity, Islam, African Traditional Religions and Hinduism, as well as included a Jewish interfaith perspective. As the week drew to a close the teacher participants developed recommendations about how to incorporate interreligious and intercultural dialogue into their teaching and the communities where they reside. The majority of the teachers in the conference came from the Lamu County and Tana River Delta regions of Kenya which have experienced either intercultural or interreligious conflict.
Global Ministries University (GMU) developed, implemented and evaluated this its third interfaith educational program in Kenya, identified and funded the presenters, their transportation costs, as well as provided funding for transportation of the teacher trainees to Nairobi. GMU hired trained technical experts who provided live streaming of this week long event and recorded it for use in other educational settings at the following web link: http://www.ustream.tv/channel/global-ministries-presents.
An edited summary of the interfaith conference will be available in the near future for use by the Maryknoll Center at Maryknoll, New York and the Maryknoll Office of Global Concerns in Washington DC. Still photos of the conference are available at the following Facebook site: http://www.facebook.com/pathstopeacekenya Please note that even those of us who do not have a Facebook account, may go to the site and view the photos.