Fr Martin Magill outlines some highlights from this year’s Community Relations and Cultural Awareness Week in Faith Matters. Discover them here on the Irish News website.
In the run-up to the ‘Healing The Land’ prayer gathering at Nutts Corner, Rev Steve Stockman shared some thoughts on prayer in Faith Matters. Read the full article here.
4 Corners Annual Service
A reconciliation service to begin the last day of the festival with contributions from Steve Stockman, Martin Magill, Jim Deeds, Sara Cook and Elizabeth Hanna. A calm but strong call for a different future for our city.
Steve talked about the vision of 4 Corners and Jeremiah’s call to bring peace and prosperity to the city. Martin Magill preached a powerful service of Jesus call to be reconciled and how it needs to go beyond the law. Fitzroy praise band were wonderful in guiding the worship. Sara and Jim shared some of the highlights of this year’s festival – How we have hosted hope in a dark time and Steve and Elizabeth prayed around the 4 corners of the city. Martin ended his homily with the phrase – “Go and be reconciled!” Steve ended the service with this benediction
God, give us faith to believe the truth
And the right to ask why
Give us joy in life’s fulfilment
And the right to cry
God give us the strength to carry others
And the right to wilt
Give us grace towards holiness
And the right to confess our guilt
Father show us a bigger picture
Jesus put grace notes in our song
Holy Spirit put us on a road that’s deeper
And more eternal than the one we’re on.
And the people of Belfast said AMEN.
The Celtic saints would talk about thin places – where the distance between heaven and earth collapses and we are able to glimpse the divine. Last night the Agape centre in South Belfast became a thin place as we listened in on a conversation between journalist Brian Rowan and artist Colin Davidson. Much of the night would involve discussion of ‘Silent Testimony’, Davidsons portraits of the forgotten victims of the troubles and Rowan set the scene from the start by describing his own reaction. “For the little I knew about art I immediately realised I was in a special place, a sacred space. So many have been forgotten by the troubles but with this exhibition you remembered.” Throughout the night the 18 portraits were projected on a loop on the screens behind the stage adding their silent presence to the conversation.
Davidson described how after the signing of the Good Friday Agreement he had thought about all those who had suffered loss and how there was nothing for them there. The thought stayed with him, percolating for years and eventually leading to this project. As well as the Queen and German Chancellor Angela Merkel, Davidson has also painted many of the greats of the Ireland including Seamus Heaney, Brian Friel, Michael Longley and Kenneth Branagh. “From the start I wanted to paint the forgotten victims as equals – as important as Heaney or Friel.”
With the help of WAVE Trauma centre a number of people who were connected by their experience of loss were approached and agreed to be painted. Those painted had lost loved ones to violence from loyalist, republicans and the security forces. But the explanations merely described what had happened, not who had done it. “I didn’t take sides and I didn’t want the audience to take sides. I painted human loss and left room for people to react to what they saw.” And react they did. Kim Mawhinney from the Ulster Museum was in the audience and she described how they were overwhelmed both with numbers (more than 80,000 visitors) and the way people reacted. People were stunned, silenced, reduced to tears. They even brought in WAVE trauma to train the Museum Guides in how to support people who were being affected by what they saw.
Davidson recalled that one person asked him why he was dragging us all back into the past. He told them that, “Nothing could be further from the truth. This is current art. It’s about today and how what happened in the past is still affecting thousands of people today. It’s about recognising that loss is not just in the past.” Brian Rowan picked up on this point asking if it was really acknowledgement that was the key to moving on?
“That and compassion,” Davidson agreed. “Not one person I met talked about justice or answers, perhaps because they knew they would never get them. Everyone though wanted to make sure their loved ones were not forgotten. My feeling is that the forgotten victims are daily paying the price for the peace we all enjoy today. The least we can do is find a way to acknowledge that.”
Tim Mair from the PSNI who was in the audience picked up this theme saying listening to Davidson and the exhibition made him realise that the past is part of the future and not just an inhibitor to it. “There is a possibility of a broken, honest but vibrant future. This gives hope that we can carve tomorrow not from a tombstone but from something different.”
Journalist Eamon Mallie said the exhibition took him back to his boyhood because going through the gallery was like doing the Stations of the Cross. He asked the artist what he had learned from the process. Davidsons answer was as short as it was profound. “I learnt compassion.” Peter Osborne for the Community Relations Council asked a question of whether dealing with the past has become such a political football that it needs to be taken away from the politicians. Both Davidson and Rowan agreed with Rowan strongly believing that we need outside help to achieve this as we are all to stitched into the fabric of the last 40 years and it has become a blame process rather than a healing process. “We need to stop lying about the truth. More focus on compassion, acknowledgement and remembering would do us all good.”
The Thin Places beloved of the Celtic saints were places that jolt us out of old ways of seeing the world. We lose our old bearings but find new ones. Tonight’s event has kick-started a conversation among the audience and the 4 Corners team that has the potential to find a way of remembering the many victims of the troubles with compassion and acknowledgement. Watch this space. Our deep thanks to all those who were present with us tonight and especially to Colin Davidson and Brian Rowan.
Harmony and Healing
“God of harmony,/Your song for us is peace./Come with healing music,/Embrace us with your love.”
I have never been to an event quite like this in Northern Ireland as Christians, Jews, Muslims, Hindus, Baha’i and Buddhists gathered together to celebrate the role of music in their faith. Harmony and Healing in association with The Northern Ireland Inter-Faith Forum was a beautiful mix of music and engagement between faith groups. Ed Petersen from Clonard Monastery wove the night together and the tone was set early on as Jubilate Chamber Choir, conducted by David Stewart sang Ubi Caritas and Psalm 23.
Next up was Chaim Moscovitch, the former Cantor from Belfast Synagogue who now teaches in England. As well as giving us the beautiful Hebrew chants of Psalm 104 and 23 he also spoke about the work he does with children where they learn how to create Biblical Scrolls using the ancient techniques. He showed us a scroll with the Exodus story on it that the children had made last week and talked of the delight of using the ancient in the modern setting. Tamer Khalil and Hesham Mohammad talked about the structure of the Qur’an and how the recitation is practiced. In such a time as this to hear a beautiful melodious recitation of the call to prayer was an act of healing in itself.
Members of the Baha’i community explained the role of music in their practice and sang a number of different songs including one set to the ancient Irish tune also used for My Lagan Love.Paul Fitzsimmons and Rachel McCarthy shared some of the Shakyamuni Buddha’s Lotus Sutra building up into a powerful recitation of the phrase Nam Myoho Renge Kyo which literally filled the hall with power and filled the audience with awe. Nirmal Munir from the 4 Corners organising committee shared 2 poems of unity she had written.
Norman Richardson from the Northern Ireland Interfaith forum concluded the evening with some thoughts on the relationship between music and faith and his belief that music is part of the divine plan. For the 180 people in the hall it was a moving night and in a time of fear, Trump and Brexit a strong symbol of unity of humanity – of the image of God that is in everyone.
Committee Member Jim Deeds was blown away by the event and wrote this reflection.
We cannot create harmony if we all sing the same note.
Tonight, we had an inter-faith evening of musical harmony. Contributions from Buddhists, Muslims, Hindus, Baha’i, Jews and Christians held a packed hall spell bound. I looked around the room as I listened to all these different types of music (all expressions of the participants’ faith) and saw people of different skin colour and faith, wearing different traditional and modern clothing. And all were listening. Sitting together and listening. Smiling and sitting together and listening. Respecting each other and smiling and sitting together and listening.
Different notes- musically and otherwise- tonight created great harmony. This was awesome!
Our Muslim friends tonight sang, ‘Allahu Akbar’ – God is great. Nirmal Munir read a poem telling us that beneath our bodies, lie souls without differential identity- we are one.
I agree. God IS great, we ARE one.
Santosh Chowdery from our Hindu community playing his tabla. Just a flavour of what we saw and heard tonight.