Cathy Nobles has travelled thousands of miles in an attempt to unify and educate enemies – and not just from her native Texas to Luton, where she now lives. She also journeyed from Cologne to Jerusalem on an inspirational pilgrimage of reconciliation to mark the 900th anniversary of the First Crusade.
Cathy invited me to her home in Farley Hill, a Luton neighbourhood made infamous by the activities of the right-wing English Defence League (EDL). Once a bustling area, Farley Hill has high levels of child malnutrition and other poverty-related diseases, and an undertone of segregation.
In her warm Texan accent, Cathy tells me that Luton is ‘a microcosm of the world’s problems’. But it should also be celebrated for its diversity: ‘Luton has such a mixture of humans from all nationalities, ethnicities and religions. I have a desire to make this town work well in its diversity.’
Cathy taught in a secondary school until she became involved in work for peace in the Middle East and Africa. In the run-up to the ninth centenary of the start of the First Crusade, Cathy and
two others developed the idea of ordinary Christians walking and travelling in the crusaders’ footsteps to apologise to Muslims, Jews and Orthodox Christians for ‘the atrocities committed by those claiming to represent Jesus’.
Over three and a half years, approximately 2,500 Christians took part in this Reconciliation Walk. ‘Confessing our mistakes allowed others to confront their own actions that create hatred,’ she says.
Cathy is continuing this work in Luton through the Reconciliation Walk Community, which aims ‘to train and empower others into a life of peacemaking’. They offer a course in justice and reconciliation, arrange field trips to conflict zones and encourage the sponsorship of children in Rwanda and the Middle East.
In 2013 the Community team moved to Farley Hill to work alongside a local church.
With another charity, Groundworks, the Reconciliation Walk Community are turning land belonging to the church into a community gardening space, running classes which enable neighbours
to get to know each other as they start their own gardens. ‘They came from different backgrounds and gained not only new skills but built friendships with people different from themselves.’
Cathy is also a member of the mediation team that support the police and community when there is a far-right demonstration, and is starting a Muslim and Christian women’s encounter group at the University of Bedfordshire Chaplaincy.
Cathy says that the Reconciliation Walk ‘started with a whisper’. Meeting her restored my hope in kindness, a fundamental of all religions that often seems to have been forgotten.
Photo credit: Kara Fox