Shalom on the Airwaves
“We are not just a community radio. We are a gospel values radio!” Sherry Meyer, Catholic lay missionary & co-founder of Radio Pacis
Radio Pacis is a BBC award-winning Catholic radio station based in Arua in the northwestern Ugandan province of West Nile. Launched in 2001 as a pastoral initiative of the Diocese of Arua working with the Comboni Missionaries, Radio Pacis is the most influential station in a region where radio remains the primary form of public communication. Employing more than 100 staff and broadcasting in five languages across three countries (Uganda, South Sudan, and Democratic Republic of the Congo), the radio station reaches an estimated listening audience of ten million. The station offers an eclectic mix of Catholic religious fare (Mass, rosaries, and scriptural meditations), social programs engaging issues such as domestic violence and civic governance, music ranging from country to hip-hop, and call-in shows where listeners can seek insights from married couples and health professionals.
One of Radio Pacis’s more innovative efforts is their “community engagements” where reporters journey into local villages to survey residents on the social issues that need to be aired on the radio. In response to these voiced concerns, radio staff stage community roundtables that bring together local residents and their civic leaders. RP staff return months later to broadcast on the status of implementation. In response to the huge influx of over one million refugees from South Sudan, Radio Pacis has also started refugee dialogues, including “Refugee Hour” which aims to hold refugee agencies more accountable for their provision of services, and “Voice of the Voiceless,” a weekly program that allows refugees to share their own personal stories. In the words of Radio Pacis Programs Manager Noel Ayikobua, “We have to educate people so they know their rights…and to hold people accountable.” Or as Radio Pacis staff Prudence Joan Onen puts it, “Many people here believe that once they are poor, they are poor. The radio helps them to see how they can come out of poverty and improve their lives.”
Radio Pacis was the brainchild of Fr. Tonino Pasolini, an Italian Comboni missionary who first came to West Nile in the late 1960s, and Ms. Sherry Meyer, an Indiana, USA native who arrived in the area in 1991 (pictured left). Both have spent decades working in grassroots pastoral ministries, focusing on empowering, catechizing, and training local lay Catholic leaders. They see the radio station as a natural outgrowth of their pastoral mission, proclaiming holistic gospel values that demonstrate the Comboni focus on loving people where they are. In fact, the radio’s name – and its subtitle “Peace of Christ for All” – was inspired by the desire to build inter-religious and inter-tribal peace in West Nile. (Intriguingly, Radio Pacis’s highest listenership is in predominantly Muslim Yumbe/Lodonga district.) Fourteen years after their founding, Radio Pacis continues to spread shalom through the airwaves.