(from Jerusalem) “I have come here with no intention of giving counsel, but just to testify to the fact that peace is possible. Who could have imagined 30 years ago that the Berlin Wall would no longer be standing, that apartheid would be uprooted in South Africa and that there would be peace in Northern Ireland?” Msgr. Donald McKeown, bishop of Derry – a city on the border between Northern Ireland and the Irish Republic, to which refer the so-called “Troubles”, a term that euphemistically indicated the armed conflict in Northern Ireland fought by English unionists and Irish nationalists from the end of the 1960s until the peace agreement of Good Friday signed in Belfast on April 10 1998 – starts by sharing his dreams, those of when he had not yet entered the priesthood, as a young student at Belfast University.
This week Mons. McKeown is in the Holy Land with the bishops of USA, Canada, EU and South Africa, members of the Holy Land Coordination, on a pilgrimage of solidarity with local Christian communities, for justice and peace. The program of the visit includes meetings with students of Israeli schools in Beit Nehemiah and Makabim-Reut, which follows the one with their Palestinian peers in Beit Jala. They all share the same wish: “We want a future of peace, we’re tired of war.”
War is pointless. “I remember that Bloody Sunday in Derry on January 30th 1972”, the bishop told SIR.
“I was a university student at the time, and that massacre left a deep scar inside me. It was unconceivable that soldiers of the British Army would fire against and kill 13 unarmed civilians during a peaceful protest march. The following Wednesday I attended the funeral service for the victims to express my closeness as well as my remonstration against that deed.” Despite that massacre, put into lyrics in the U2’s song “Sunday, bloody Sunday”, “we suffered and we sought peace that finally arrived in 1998, on Good Friday, with the signing of the agreement that led to the pacification of the two communities of Northern Ireland. Many people died in those years, many defenceless civilians, women , youths, old people, the weakest and most vulnerable brackets, unable to defend themselves. The war didn’t solve anything.” Neither today, and nor back then.
“We and our confreres bishops of Germany and South Africa wish to share the experience that reconciliation is possible with our Israeli and Palestinian friends. Even after a 50-year conflict. Peace develops with friendship, human relations that mature day after day and with the courage of opposing whatever may cause discrimination, injustice and hate.”
Will there ever be a Good Friday agreement also for Israelis and Palestinians? The bishop promptly replied:
“Peace is possible. We ought to repeat it infinitely to the two peoples at war with each other. Our experience in Ireland is a token of this. Orphans, widows, those who lost everything in the war, bear testimony to it.
They are the ones who made peace possible, the weakest grew strong because they succeeded in walking together, crying together.
The victims of the war are the heroes of peace.”
“The same will happen here in the Holy Land, where reconciliation encompasses the suffering of so many people. They are the ones who indicate the path that extends beyond hatred, resentment, revenge and personalism, to world and political leaders. Politicians believe they are following the will of their peoples, but is it really so? I don’t think so.
Our experience in Ireland shows that we need people who believe that peace, forgiveness, reconciliation, are possible.”
Also Christians are called to give their contribution to the cause of peace. “Here in the Holy Land – said Msgr. McKeown – I saw a Christian, Catholic community small numerically but rich in the faith, which are found in the schools, where the coexistence of ethnicities and faiths, mutual understanding and tolerance are a way of life.
The Christian community can have a truly prophetic role, acting as a bridge of dialogue that brings together Israelis and Palestinians, Muslims and Jews, starting with the young. We are the people of hope, we must be capable of furthering hope from the Cross.”
“There is a future, not only a past – concluded the bishop -.
We must be architects of the future, not prisoners of the past.
A wall will not stop the many members of the two peoples who intend to proceed towards a future of peace. The Berlin wall has been torn down. Peace is possible. Let us continue weaving its fabric.”