Building Peace and Preventing War – Celebrating 25 Years of Commitment

Tasneem Jamal

On March 23 more than 450 people joined with the past and present staff and board of Project Ploughshares to celebrate 25 years of working to achieve a peaceful world.

The event was held in Waterloo, Ontario at The Cedars, a worship centre for both Westminster United Church and Temple Shalom, who generously provided the use of their building for the celebration.

The evening’s program included featured speaker Stephen Lewis, special UN envoy for HIV/AIDS in Africa, with short addresses by Ploughshares’ co-founders Ernie Regehr and Murray Thomson; Walter Pitman, acting chair of the Ploughshares Board; Janet Somerville, General Secretary of the Canadian Council of Churches; and Phyllis Creighton, a former Ploughshares board member. The chapel choir of Conrad Grebel University College, directed by Dr. Leonard Enns, opened the evening to enthusiastic response. Many members of the audience joined the staff and board at a reception which followed the formal program.

Under the title, “The World is Falling Apart: What Role Civil Society?” Stephen Lewis spoke with vivid compassion about the global conditions that make concrete peace action more important and urgent than ever. He spoke about the horror of the 1994 genocide in Rwanda, where 800,000 people died while the world watched and did nothing. From his position as Special UN envoy, Lewis has witnessed the devastation of the AIDS pandemic on civil society, and of the crisis of AIDS in Africa. He emphasized the critical role of civil society and organizations like Ploughshares in building a safer and more just world.

Mr. Lewis recognized Project Ploughshares as the “pre-eminent peace organization” in Canada, and reminded us that our work is far from complete. In the face of extraordinary violence and hate, the world seems habitually drawn to respond with still more violence and a seemingly reflexive weaponization of conflict.

Despite the vivid portrayals of destruction that dominated the evening, the audience left with renewed optimism and a commitment to working for a more peaceful and equitable world. As Lewis noted, “There ain’t a moment’s time for despair because that leads nowhere.”

In the face of the reality of persistent war, from Afghanistan to the Middle East to Sudan and beyond, and in the face of an apparently enduring commitment to respond to conflict with weapons rather than reconciliation, 25 years of peace work is not so much an achievement as it is the promise of an achievement – the achievement of a world that is more just and less violent.

Thank you to present and past board members, the Canadian Council of Churches and our sponsoring churches, local Ploughshares groups, and our supporters across Canada, who are committed to working with us for a peaceful future, and whose support makes our work possible.

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