Derry’s historic quays came to a standstill yesterday as crowds gathered to witness His Holiness, the 14th Dalai Lama of Tibet venture across the city’s iconic Peace Bridge, serenaded by 300 local schoolchildren.
With the melodies of ‘Peace is Flowing Like a River’ reverberating out over the quays and towards the city centre, a feeling of calm and well being was evident to many sharing the moment. I’m sure this feeling was shared by many others within earshot too, even if they didn’t realise the significance of this mysterious music floating in the Derry breeze.
The walk over the bridge was hugely symbolic, as His Holiness was accompanied by Director of Children in Crossfire, Richard Moore, who had organised the Derry visit, Bishop Ken Good, Church of Ireland Bishop of Derry and Raphoe, and Derry’s Catholic Diocesan Administrator and soon-to-be Archbishop of Armagh, Monsignor Eamon Martin.
The sun shone throughout, as if lighting their way to Ebrington, and only when they had reached their destination did the heavens open and heavy rain began to fall in true Irish style!
Shortly before their shared walk across the river, Richard Moore and His Holiness, the Dalai Lama hosted a press conference in the City Hotel. Press and TV crews from all over the country were present, and even one reporter who had travelled all the way from Spain for the chance of an audience with His Holiness.
The visit to Derry was for a conference on ‘Culture of Compassion’, hosted by Children in Crossfire. The day culminated in a keynote address by His Holiness at Ebrington.
Richard Moore, who was blinded by a British soldier’s rubber bullet at the age of ten, spoke of his close friendship 14th Dalai Lama, his early life and the decisions that led him to set up Children in Crossfire.
Speaking of the importance of this latest visit, Mr Moore said: “I was delighted when the Dalai Lama agreed to come. His being here sends a message out to the world that there is a level of normality here - look how far we have come.
“The peace bridge today is an amazing symbol and example of how far this city has come and you can’t take that for granted. Also I also think that you can’t take peace for granted, and I think his visit will remind us of the importance of peace.”
The warmth and friendship between the two men is obvious.
Richard Moore told reporters: “I get a very warm feeling when I think of His Holiness”, while His Holiness himself caused a ripple of laughter when he revealed that Richard Moore sometimes describes him as “the mischievous Dalai Lama.” Laughter seems commonplace among the pair.
Speaking of his impromptu meeting with Richard Moore’s mother earlier that morning, the Dalai Lama also said: “I consider this day is a very special day”.
He also spoke at length about the importance of the younger generations now inheriting the world.
“This century is just beginning - the future is still in our hands. The past not in our hands - it already happened,” he reflected.
“The younger generation must have vision on a global level. This century must be a century of peace. Mentally, emotionally and physically, we are all the same.”
On a personal note, I was delighted to shake hands with the Dalai Lama as our press conference ended yesterday. His Holiness also caused a bit of a giggle when he noticed my nose-ring (yes, I’m still trapped in the 90s!) and lightly reached up to touch it, giving a little chuckle as he did!