Bridge of Peace

People of two neighbouring villages who had not dared to visit each other for two months since 16 men were killed in an inter village faction fight were re-united in a Church service for peace on Easter Tuesday.

Organised by the Ministers of the Roman Catholic and Dutch Reformed churches in Mount Ayliff, Transkei, the people of the villages of MButhweni and Nokatshile came together at a small river dividing their lands to pray for peace. The trouble had started years before in a dispute between two men. Each Christmas when the men came back from the mines there was enormous tension, sometimes fights flared up. Though the two villages were originally one and the people were related to each other the sense of mutual suspicion was intense.

The 16 men were killed when the village olf Nokatshile planned a surprise raid on their neighbours. The neighbouring village of Mbuthweni had however received a tip-off and were in waiting, they surprised the attackers, 15 of whom were killed. Now everybody feared the worse. The men were at home and so everyone slept out in the fields. It was teachers in the schools who brought the matter to the parish priest Fr Giorgio Stefani, they had seen the children dozing and totally switched off in school and had divined the reason.

The people were invited to gather, each on their own side of a tiny stream separating their communal lands for a prayer and reconciliation meeting. As police planes flew overhead the Bishop stood on a board which was the bridge over the stream and spoke. Each village rendered hymns with gathering enthusiasm.

After water had been blessed the 300 villagers, standing across the stream from each other washed their hands and asked for God’s forgiveness. Two fires were lit on either side to the water and representatives placed incense in the flames begging God for peace in their own village. They then crossed over the foot-bridge and prayed for their neighbouring village. A second time they crossed the little bridge passing each other on the bridge and shaking hands. They entered each others’space and found peace there.

Bishop William Slattery of Kokstad referred in his sermon to the Scripture account of Jesus appearance to his disciples. He invited the people to allow the peace and forgiveness of the Risen Jesus to touch their wounded hearts. Jesus, he said, had seen how even the apostles, Judas, Peter and the others had abandoned Him, yet He came to them, risen from the dead to forgive them and bring them to a new peace.

The Bishop encouraged the people to have pity on their own children and not to pass on the seed of hatred and violence to them. For two months the children and women had been sleeping in the fields and mountains in fear and now sat weary and dispirited at home and in class.

The dead do not want revenge, the Bishop said, they want peace and forgiveness. Let us not embarrass them now who must stand before the face of God, the God of peace. Promotors of witchcraft who promise people medicine to make themselves invisible before enemies must remember all is visible to God who judges the living and the dead.

After the laying on of hands in prayer the people in chorus crossed the foot-bridge to embrace their one-time enemies in joy. “All my family live over there” said one woman, ” and I have not dared see them in two months”.

The Police plane up above droned off behind the mountains as people cried out with joy in peace and reconciliation. Christ gives a peace the world cannot understand.

April 6 1999.


Posted in Bishops Corner.