On Thursday, October 31 Father Patrick Devine, founder and executive director of the Shalom Center for Conflict Resolution and Reconciliation in Africa, was Inducted into the Caring Hall of Fame by the Caring Institute at National Harbor in Maryland.
Devine, originally from Frenchpark, Co. Roscommon, has a powerful predecessor, succeeding his Holiness the Dalai Lama who was chosen for the honor in 2012. It’s a measure of the international esteem that his work is held in that Devine has joined such distinguished company.
But truth be told, although he’s certainly glad of the opportunity to canvas in the U.S. in support of the work of his Shalom center, Devine is a literally a man on a mission, and he could care less about being personally honored.
What he wants is to ensure that the important work he has built up through his center endures, which means he wants to forge deepening alliances with supporters here and internationally.
It’s dangerous work, by the way. Devine has been held up at gunpoint; he’s been assaulted and robbed, and he’s seen friends and colleagues killed in their line of work.
In 2009 Irish priest Father Jerry Roche was slain by burglars in Kenya, where he had worked for 41 years. His body was found when he failed to turn up for Mass. Courage is such an everyday part of the brief for Devine. If he talks of it at all, he only does so as an afterthought.
“I joined the Society of African Missions in 1988,” Devine told the Irish Voice. “When you join it you make a lifelong commitment to the people of Africa. I went first to Western Tanzania, working in a very remote area near the Rwanda border. It was 18 hours from the nearest tar road.”
The Society of African Missions (SMA) began building schools, clinics and churches, and Devine worked with them for seven years. Then in 1995 he was elected regional superior, the team leader for Tanzania and Kenya for the work of the SMA.
“I became very aware that the church was very good at dealing with the symptoms of conflict and poverty, with hospice, medical care, food and all that. But often we were just addressing the symptoms. Very little was being done to address the root causes,” Devine said.
“That inspired me to look into the issue more deeply. I went and did a master’s in peace studies and international from 2007 to 2009 while I was still working.”
After graduating Devine, inspired by his research, assembled a group of qualified and competent graduates in Kenya and set up his fledgling Conflict Resolution group. He hand-picked the candidates indifferent to their backgrounds; some were Quakers, some Protestants and some were Muslims, but all shared Devine's commitment to peace and development.
Devine realized that when people live in places with persistant conflict, where people are regularly killed and maimed, it’s nearly impossible for social values like justice and mercy to take root. “Neither can you have sustained development because hospitals schools, churches and mosques become inoperable,” he explains.
“There was a real need to address the root causes. We got our vision very clear. We decided to insert ourselves into the warring groups that were in conflict with each other. We aimed at training 120 influential opinion shapers within each community. We dealt with tribal elders and the chiefs and we gained their trust.”
The journey from Frenchpark to Africa isn’t a journey to be made lightly. A few months after his ordination in 1988 Devine was already preparing for his new life in Africa.
“When I was a student studying for the priesthood I worked in construction here in New York and I played Gaelic football for Donegal at Gaelic Park,” Devine recalls with evident fondness.
“I still maintain my links with the construction industry and the GAA. They’ve been a tremendous help to me in Africa over the years.”
Although the honor he is to receive for his groundbreaking work is a major one, it’s typical of Devine to underplay it.
“This award is an opportunity to promote the work we do. We want to promote the vision of the mission. And we want to invite qualified people to join us and we need financial support to continue the work,” he said.
The Shalom Center for Conflict Resolution in the United States is in the process of registering itself as a feeder organization for their work in Africa. “It’s already in Washington so we’re hoping to complete the process very soon. At the moment the SMA Fathers are routing 100 percent of the money it to us in Africa,” Devine says.
To make a donation visit www.shalomconfliccenter.org or email Devine directly at pdevine@ shalomconflictcenter.org.