Bereaved women turned activists from five conflict areas around the world joined a 9/11 victim's family member at Holy Trinity Episcopal Church in Manhattan September 11 to discuss how they are working to avert violence and promote peace in their various contexts.
"Sudan to Chile: Women Waging Peace" was arranged by Peaceful Tomorrows, an organization founded by family members of those killed on September 11, 2001, to advocate nonviolent actions in pursuit of justice.
Moderated by Phoebe Griswold, founding member Anglican Women's Empowerment (AWE) and wife of Presiding Bishop Frank Griswold, the forum included six women who shared their stories and insights on working for reconciliation and peace: Marcia Scantlebury from Chile; Asma Guenifi from Algeria; Jo Berry from England; Afifa Azim from Afghanistan; Julia Duany from Sudan; and Terry Rockefeller from Boston.
Despite representing a diversity of religions and cultures and bringing varying perspectives, all women shared a unified message of peace, hope, reconciliation, and nonviolence.
Rockefeller, who lost a family member during the tragic events of 9/11, explained that "nonviolence is the only way to end conflict. You can make changes with violence, but then you have a new level of conflict."
Several women talked of their experiences of loss and grief as having transformed them over time into bearers of reconciliation.
In 1984, Berry's father was murdered when an IRA bomb exploded at a Conservative Party conference he was attending. Her journey led her to work with Irish people -- both Roman Catholic and Protestant.
Berry talked about the openness with which she met Pat McGee, the man who murdered her father, in 2000. McGee spent the first hour of their conversation justifying the murder but Berry chose not get angry or to blame McGee. Instead, she listened.
Berry's openness did not go unnoticed by McGee, who was impressed by her willingness to simply listen. Their journey of sharing was illustrated in a BBC documentary titled "Facing the Enemy." Four years later, Berry and McGee continue to speak and share new insights into each other's lives.
"Making peace does not happen in a day," said Duany, founder of Southern Sudan Friends International. "It is a lifelong journey."
Duany escaped from Southern Sudan to America in 1984 and years later when she visited a refugee camp south of Khartoum, her life was changed forever. She was struck by the depravity of the situation and wanted to help her people.
Duany's church asked her how they could help, so she asked for seeds to take back to Sudan for women to plant. Just weeks later she returned with four suitcases full of various vegetable seeds.
"Today, we've heard just a few examples of how women are helping to make the world a better place for everybody," Griswold said. "Planting seeds of hope throughout the world by working towards reconciliation and nonviolence is precisely what these women and many more like them continue to do every day."
"The only way forward for a peaceful world is to meet violence with reconciliation. Violence begets violence; war begets war," she said.
Part of the September 11 Families for Peaceful Tomorrows International Conference, the event was sponsored by Holy Trinity's Peace and Restorative Justice Community and the Gender Studies Program at Long Island University, Brooklyn.