Church leaders breach sectarian divide, urge end to Northern Ireland violence

(Photo: REUTERS / Paul Faith / Pool / Files (NORTHERN IRELAND)File photograph shows Northern Ireland’s new first minister Ian Paisley (L) and deputy first minister Martin McGuinness smiling after being sworn in at a ceremony at Stormont, Belfast May 8, 2007. Hardline Protestant cleric and Northern Ireland’s former leader Ian Paisley has died, his Democratic Unionist Party (DUP) said on September 12, 2014.

A week of disorder across Norther Ireland has left growing numbers of police officers injured, and Catholic and a Church of Ireland bishops were among those who joined for an ecumenical service before walking together to a peace wall gate at the center of clashes.

A further 14 police officers have been injured as violence continues to plague Northern Ireland’s streets, the Belfast Telegraph reported April 10.

The unrest comes almost 23 years ago — April 10 — when a peace accord known as the Good Friday Agreement was signed, bringing an end to 30 years of sectarian killing by paramilitaries.

The deal bound all parties to use exclusively peaceful means and provided a pathway for a referendum on whether Northern Ireland should remain part of Britain.

In the 23 years since agreement halted three decades of brutal, bitter conflict in Northern Ireland, fears that widespread violence could return increased sharply after the 2016 Brexit referendum, when Britons voted to leave the European Union, DW reported.

As the UK prepared to leave the EU, the former British prime ministers Tony Blair and John Major were among the politicians most adamant that Brexit could undermine the peace agreement.

In Northern Ireland, the majority Protestants were viewed as mainly “loyalists” favoring remaining part of the United Kingdom, while many in the Cahtolic community were viewed as “republicans” looking to unification with the Irish Republic.

Police appealed on April 9 to parents, guardians and community leaders “to use their influence to ensure we do not see a repeat of such ugly scenes” after trouble flared in Belfast and Coleraine. 

Police were attacked with missiles and a car was set on fire during another night of violence in Belfast. Riot vans and police dogs were at the scene in Tiger’s Bay, a traditionally Protestant area of the city.

Prior to the April 9, continued unrest, Rev Colin Duncan, of Shankill and Woodvale Methodist Church, welcomed those gathered as coming from different denominations but with a “common heart” and “common concern” at recent events, Premier Christian News reported.

‘SHOW OF UNITY’

“Here we are together and we’re here to give a show of unity that together we are making a stand and a voice against the violence that we’re seeing on the streets, a violence that serves no practical function or purpose at all,” he said.

“We are coming together to show that we along with others are taking a united stand against the violence we are seeing on the streets.”

Readings and prayers were heard from a range of clergy including the Rev Tracey McRoberts, rector of St Matthew’s Church in Woodvale, Father Tony Devlin from St Paul’s Church on the Falls Road, Pastor Gordon McDade of Soul Space, Father Martin Graham of St Peter’s Cathedral on the Falls Road and Rev Jack Lambe of Townsend Street Presbyterian Church.

The clergy walked together from Forthspring Inter Community Group on the Springfield Road just hours after chaotic scenes in a traditonally Catholic and Republican area with youths throwing petrol bombs, fireworks and missiles at police, the short distance to the peace wall gates.

Catholic Bishop Noel Treanor described the act as “a contribution on the part of us as church leaders to the local clergy who have been on the streets during these events”.

“It is an expression of our common Christian faith and our citizenship as Christians who at all times wish to promote understanding, peace, co-operation and solidarity, and to promote dialogue as well as the only way to address issues which are of concern to either the entire community or parts of the community,” he said.

“We as Christians wish to serve each part of the community because when one part suffers, we all suffer and it is our hope that this event and manifestation of Christian prayerful togetherness will inspire young people to realise that destruction is pointless.

“Coming together for dialogue and for prayer is ultimately the only way to bring mutual understanding, peace and justice.”

Treanor said, “Sadly, over the past week, we have experienced a return to civic unrest and violence on our streets.

“These scenes are deeply concerning for all of us who believe in and have worked together for a shared, brighter future for our society.”

Church of Ireland (Anglican) Bishop George Davidson noted, “Churches on the ground in this part of the world and right throughout the province where there have been various situations, they are our communities… and we simply want to encourage the local Christian communities to play their part and to seek to be what influence they can be.”

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