The Art of Listening: Peacebuilding in the Roman Catholic Church in Ireland

Read about Theodora Hawksley's work on practical peacebuilding in the Roman Catholic Church in Ireland in the wake of the abuse crisis.

‘Violence happens whenever a story can’t be told or it isn’t being listened to'.

These are the words of Sister Hilda, Benedictine nun and unlikely star of the Australian Broadcasting Corporation’s series The Abbey, a reality TV documentary in which five ordinary Australian women lived the life of enclosed Benedictine nuns for a month.

Monasteries are not places we associate with violence. Quite the opposite – we think of them as places of peace, contemplation, prayer and a strong community life. We might even think of them as places removed from the troubles and stresses of the world, and it might surprise us that a Benedictine nun has anything to say about violence at all. Sister Hilda’s words are not born from extensive experience of conflict, but from years of community life, and deep practical wisdom about what it takes to build a community of peace. And what does it take to build such a community? Listening – ‘Listen’ is the first word of St Benedict’s Rule of life. Violence happens whenever a story can’t be told, or isn’t being listened to.

As part of my work on the Peacebuilding Through Media Arts project, I am researching the process of practical peacebuilding happening in the Roman Catholic Church in Ireland in the wake of the abuse crisis. In recent months, I have spent time in Ireland listening to ordinary Catholics, both laypeople and members of religious orders. I have become aware that the process of peacebuilding depends on allowing people to tell their stories, and making sure they are listened to. Where do the arts come in to this process of peacebuilding? Dublin’s museums and galleries bear witness to the fact that the arts – music, writing, poetry, painting, drama – are some of the most basic and instinctive ways in which human beings tell stories, about who they are, and about where they have come from. Arts can help us to tell stories, and help others to listen. The photographs above show a hoarding in central Dublin. Part art installation, part protest, this hoarding is covered with the pages of official reports. The first time I was in Dublin, it was covered by the pages of the Ryan Report – the official report of the Commission to Inquire into Child Abuse (CICA). On my most recent visit, it was covered in the pages of a report into the deaths of children in the care of the Irish state. By plastering a hoarding with these pages, the artist has made these public reports even more public, more visible – listened to, photographed, read, as well as walked past and ignored. He is treating these reports not as archives, but as living witness and testimonies – making sure these stories are told, and making people listen.

By Theodora Hawksley, Peacebuilding Through Media Arts project researcher.