How about a Great Green Wall? Fr Patrick Devine and the Shalom Center: Living out the ‘Church Without Walls’ in Africa

While walls of all sorts have been making headlines lately, there’s one that hasn’t gotten quite as much publicity – but has the potential to transform life in Africa.

Fr Patrick Devine, a priest in the Society of African Missions (SMA) and founder of the Shalom Centre for Conflict Resolution and Reconciliation in Kenya, spoke arlier this month about the innovative ‘Great Green Wall’ in the fourth annual Lieut Gen Dermot Earley Memorial Lecture. The lecture was in Maynooth University’s Edward M Kennedy Institute for Conflict Resolution, in association with the Irish Defence Forces.

The Irish Times carried a report on the lecture by Breda O’Brien, which focused on Shalom’s work on conflict resolution in Kenya. Fr Devine spoke along similar lines earlier this year in a lecture at Queen’s University’s Senator George J Mitchell Institute for Global Peace, Security and Justice.

But what caught my attention in the information I received about Fr Devine’s lecture was the Great Green Wall initiative, an ambitious project that may help to address root environmental causes of poverty in Africa. The Great Green Wall website describes it this way:

The Great Green Wall is an African-led project with an epic ambition: to grow an 8,000km natural wonder of the world across the entire width of Africa. Its goal is to provide food, jobs and a future for the millions of people who live in a region on the frontline of climate change.

Once completed, the Great Green Wall will be the largest living structure on Earth and a new Wonder of the World.

The tagline of my blog may be ‘Building a Church Without Walls,’ emphasizing my belief that the church lives out its mission best when it is loving and serving those outside the walls of its own buildings. But the Great Green Wall is just the sort of wall that I could get excited about.

Shalom, and Fr Devine’s, involvement in such a project illustrates for me what a ‘Church Without Walls’ could look like. As Fr Devine puts it:

“For reconciliation to evolve the four components of peace, truth, justice and mercy have to be addressed in a holistic, integrated and mutually supporting manner. Missionaries adopt a holistic approach in development and humanitarian interventions”.

“Addressing issues of the environment and conflict there is need for objective perspective in three dimensions; firstly, how fast expanding populations are increasing demands on resources; secondly, how increasing environmental climate change, desertification and degradation is causing an acute supply problem for the demand issues; and thirdly, the alarming disparity and discrepancy in the inequity of the distribution of the resources of this planet. These three dimensions have to be addressed inter-connectedly as they are the main driving forces for understanding how the environment in impacting on conflict, poverty and underdevelopment. In many parts of Africa these dimensions play a significant role in generating a social pressure-cooker that erupts into conflict.

“Shalom has been invited by the United Nations Convention to Combat Desertification to discuss possible strategic contributions it can make in helping with the creation of Africa’s Great Green Wall.  The wall – a 260,000 square kilometre line of indigenous trees and vegetation – aims to halt the desertification of the Sahel (the ecoclimatic and biogeographic zone of transition between the Sahara to the north and the Sudanian Savanna to the south), and to stem the increasing migration of displaced people throughout Africa and Europe caused by climate change, as well as aiming to create green jobs and increase food security. The underlying causes need to be addressed urgently and professionally, not just satisfied with addressing the symptom.  Without such initiatives the conflict quotient will rise.

“The Great Green Wall is an African initiative that deserves the support of the international community. When completed it will be an environmental ‘Wonder of the World’ spanning 11 countries from Senegal in the west to Djibouti in the east, and benefiting tens of millions of people. I am delighted that the SMA will spearhead support for this project in Ireland through the ‘Laudato Tree’ Project – an initiative created by Don Mullan and his colleagues.”


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