In the midst of an unexpected election that threatens to be brutal and sectarian there are moments of hope and grace. As supporters arrived for this morning’s prayer breakfast many were talking about Ian Paisley Jr’s performance on the BBC last night . In the early stages of what had threatened to be a brutal sectarian campaign the son of Rev Ian Paisley very publicly thanked Martin McGuinness for his contribution to peace. Mr. Paisley said his “remarkable journey not only saved lives but made the lives of countless people better”. Added to that the news that Peter Robinson was praying for Martin McGuinness to recover from illness, and even some of the veteran peacemaker’s present admitted to being pleasantly surprised.
And yet that Grace is exactly what 4 Corners Festival is all about. We are hosting hope in the midst of darkness – we are celebrating “Our Wounded and Wonderful City,”- and we believe that we can help transform Belfast. Almost 100 supporters gathered at 8:00am to pray for our city and to commit to making it a better place for all. Poet Jim Deeds (who will be leading a Wonderful Wander through the West) welcomed everyone and gave an overview of some highlights of the festival. More importantly he shared his belief that Belfast needed what he called, “a 4 Corners mentality and spirituality, or as Steve Stockman said earlier in the week – Reconciliation is not rolling down the hill from Stormont, so we have to roll it up!”
This theme was picked up by the Chair of the Community Relations Council Peter Osborne, who said that civil society was a beacon of hope during the worst of the troubles and civil society now needs to show leadership and demand that our politicians focus on reconciliation and building a shared future. He noted the irony of the assembly collapsing on Martin Luther King Day – “MLK the man who set the standard for hope and aspiration in a divided society,” and went on to talk about the famous ‘I have a Dream’ Speech. “Most people remember the mountaintop, the dream of children someday playing side by side, but I remember an earlier part of the speech where MLK looks at the 250,000 people in the crowd – about a quarter of whom were white. And he asks the question – ‘Why have our white brothers and sisters joined us here today? It’s because they realise that their freedom is tied to our freedom, that their future is tied to our future – that none of us can do this alone.’ 4 Corners exemplifies that spirit, that vision of being in this together. We cannot walk alone in this city and how we respond to the current challenge – how we dialogue and act towards each other is exactly how we will move forward together.”
The launch was closed by our host Rev Ann Tolland who prayed for our city and for the work of the festival within it – recognising the fear of the present but asking that we all seek to become, “that tiny light, that spark that will give people hope as we go forward in Jesus’ name.”
And as a festival we say Amen to that. We hope that you can join us at some of our events over the next few weeks.