Nonviolent Interfaith Leadership Program – 2015

Victorian members Adam Van and Henrike Brussaard attended the Nonviolent Interfaith Leadership Program (NILP) last year, which was organised by Pace e Bene Australia. Ann Morgan of Pace e Bene wrote this article about her experiences of NILP 2015.



Nonviolent Interfaith Leadership Program – 2015


Weaving webs of relationships for peace and conflict transformation seems to be something that draws me in. At times it is messy and unpredictable. Nevertheless, the art and soul of peacebuilding is strongly grounded in flexible webs of relationships that are “at the heart of social change” (1). The 2015 Nonviolent Interfaith Leadership Program (NILP) was for me, a powerful example of

how relationships that are forged, strengthened and inspired by a common purpose, can become the heart of personal and social transformation. In November, 2015, 12 participants along with the facilitation team and supporting interns, gathered at Amberley Retreat Centre in Melbourne for the five day NILP. This year the diversity of the group was a highlight. More than half of the participants spoke a language other than English as their mothertongue and many were tri-lingual. The cultural mix of the group provided a rich tapestry of life experience, faith perspectives and worldviews. Two

participants had travelled from South Africa to join us for the program. Others had travelled interstate from WA, QLD, NSW and NT.

Our gathering in November occurred during the week of violent terrorism in France. It was a stark reminder of the need to continue this work. We were extremely fortunate during our gathering to have three outstanding guest speakers from the Muslim faith: Shereen Hassan, Mariam Issa and Yusef Omar. They shared with us part of their own journey and commitment to peace and nonviolence from their faith perspective. All of them spoke honestly about times of sadness and struggle when they experienced vilification from some in the Australian community when acts of violent terrorism occur.  Their resilience, love, compassion and hope in the way of nonviolence was inspiring. We heard how they are affected by negative stereotypes, ignorance and cultural misunderstanding. Of note was their

choice to continue to bring dignity, humanity and respect to encounters with those who may not have an understanding of the Muslim faith tradition nor the experience of encounter through relationships with people from a Muslim background. A number of us had the pleasure of visiting the Islamic Museum in Melbourne following the program. It offers beautiful installations that outline the long history of Muslims in Australia as well as providing insights into the heart of this global faith tradition.

As well as being personally challenged, inspired and connected with those from different backgrounds, many joyful moments of laughter, fun, creativity and co-learning were shared during our time together. A highlight of our program was the cultural evening on the last night. Through song, dance, poetry and stories, our shared humanity was palpably evident. When participants were asked for feedback the following comments were shared:

• One of the things I see as important now is not only conversations about faith between people of different faiths, but having fun together and forming friendships.

• It has deepened my understanding of nonviolence. I will now try and practice nonviolence in myself as well as (and in order to) practice it with others. This program has given me the understanding and tools to start trying to do this.

• It has helped me understand the importance of understanding myself in order to be a good leader.

• Will be more open to learn from others as that was one of the blockages/blind spots I have encountered with myself.

Participants most enjoyed:

• Stories form the guests and others within the diverse group.

• The people - openhearted, honest, fully present.

• Getting to know everyone in the group - having conversations, having fun, celebrating and exploring diversity.

• Balance of time together and alone.

• Hearing people's stories (both those who were visiting and bits and pieces from program participants). This was very powerful.

• The time and space to share from our traditions.

We acknowledge the staff of Amberley Retreat Centre. Their hospitality and welcoming spirit are deeply appreciated. We are truly grateful to be able to meet in such a beautiful environment. Thanks to all who gave of themselves, participated freely and fully. It was a privilege to be part of this gathering. The experience of turning to one another was real.

Ann Morgan, Brisbane


(1) Lederach, John Paul (2005) The Moral Imagination: The Art and Soul of Building Peace. New York: Oxford University Press. p.86.