Life in Belfast, part 3

Belfast, N. Ireland

The end of the semester has been most busy. The week intensive in “Conflict Transformation” at Corrymeela was truly profound for me. Under the facilitation of Wilhelm Verwoerd, Alistair Little, and local Rachel McMonagle, several classmates and I participated in aspects of Wilhelm and Alistair’s Journey through Conflict “storytelling” workshop which they have taken across the world in places like Bosnia, Serbia, Israel/Palestine, South Africa, the Balkans, etc. I am in the process of writing a reflection over this residential experience for my module assessment, and I hope to share that here when I finish it. This experience has helped shape my plans for the future, as I am now in conversation with Alistair and Wilhelm about how to start this type of storytelling work in prisons and other venues back home.

The week after, I journeyed south to Rostrevor, Northern Ireland for an overnight stay with the Benedictine Monks at Holy Cross Monastery. I so appreciated this immersion in silence that I asked Gladys, my professor who came with us, if I could stay another day. Those two days provided great nourishment and rejuvenation for me as I spent that time in silent meditation, prayer with the monks, reading, journaling, and hiking. As Br. Thierry told us, and I paraphrase, “Silence is not just about ‘not talking.’ It is not merely a rule to be kept. Rather, we seek to live in an atmosphere of silence so that we might learn to listen – to God, to others, and to ourselves.”

The following few weeks after this has been spent in reading, writing, reflecting over the time in Corrymeela for an oral assessment I had Monday, and doing way too much Christmas shopping! Unfortunately, this last week in Northern Ireland has been marked with riots and violence.

Last week, the councilors of Belfast City Council voted as to whether the Union flag should continue to fly over Belfast’s City Hall. The Democratic Ulster Party (DUP) and Sinn Fein (the two largest parties: Unionist and Nationalist, respectively) voted oppositely, as might be expected. The DUP voted to leave the flag up all year round, while Sinn Fein wanted it taken down permanently. The Alliance Party (what is referred to as a ‘cross-community’ party that serves as the balance between the DUP and Sinn Fein) voted to compromise by flying the flag on 17 designated days per year. Yet, the moment the vote passed, thousands of loyalists (perhaps we could call them extreme Unionists?) stormed the courtyard of City Hall, breaking windows and attacking police. They have since targeted the Alliance Party, burning their headquarters in Carrickfergus and attacking the home of some of the MPs. Members of the Alliance Party and the DUP have received death threats, and cars have been burned and petrol-bombed in recent days. It does not look good here. Many of my Belfast friends are watching through their fingers in dismay at what is happening. Clearly, the difficult work of peacemaking and reconciliation still has a long way to go here.

Friday morning, my friend Pádraig is picking me up and driving me to the airport so that I may at last return home. My first weekend home will consist of reunion with family, good friends, a visit to Riverbend prison, and a viewing of The Hobbit! After a lovely week of family Christmas festivities, I will go to Texas for two weeks for the actual Christmas holiday with my parents, sister, brother, and sister-in-law. On Jan 5, I return to Nashville for a few weeks before flying back to Belfast at the end of January. I am beyond excited to fly home. I can’t believe it is already time.

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