Life as a minister can get fairly busy at times. So I always welcome an opportunity to sit quietly and listen to others.

Recently, I was honoured and humbled to be invited to the All-Island Women’s Forum Conference. With my coffee in hand and chosen podcasts to plug in to for the journey, I headed to the gorgeous Lough Erne Resort in Enniskillen.

I confess that particular week I was running on empty; maybe it was because exhaustion had crept in, or because I had experienced some recent discouragement that I had allowed to unsettle my heart.

Whatever the reason, my day in Enniskillen did not disappoint. The conference not only energised me, but also helped me to once again not lose perspective.

The overall theme of the conference was ‘Women’s Voices in Peacebuilding’ with the opening address presented by our President Michael D. Higgins. As usual, the President’s speech was outstanding.

He paid tribute to the importance of the role of women in the work of peace and reconciliation, announcing that "peace is more than the absence of fighting, and it is upon that principle, as Emma De Souza (Coordinator, National Women’s Council) has remarked, that the success of the Women’s Coalition can be truly marked."

He took the time out of his busy schedule to stay for the whole conference, exemplifying a leader who truly champions and cherishes the vital role of women in peace-making. I sat in awe and wonder as women from across our island and from different backgrounds, shared their expertise and experiences regarding themes such as the importance of human rights, education and women’s reproductive rights. To the fore was my fabulous friend Eileen Weir of the Shankill Women’s Centre who reminded us of the critical work of women at the grassroots.

There is nothing more uplifting and encouraging than a room full of inspirational female peace agents who, day-in and day-out make a difference in our communities.

It is good to be reminded, especially as we approach International Women’s Day, that we are blessed with such women who recognise that we are not competitors but companions on this life-journey.

Friends, we do not need to do this journey alone; we all need people; we all need companions. Remember, Jesus had his community. Yes, he had his many disciples but He also had Peter, James and John; the few he pulled in closer.

Who are your people? There is a power in togetherness. Here’s to the many women who inspire us. Here’s to International Women’s Day; an opportunity to celebrate our precious women and girls from all walks of life!