Agreeing to join with my neighbours in the Bogside for the Annual Bloody Sunday Prayer Service this year was utterly essential. For decades Derry/Londonderry’s two communities have lived separate lives, content to remain in their respective comfort zones of separation and poor relations. A new day however has dawned, thanks largely to Lord Saville’s long awaited report and the dark depressing cloud ominously hanging over a city and its people is, thank God, beginning to lift allowing Protestants and Catholics an unprecedented opportunity to move forward in the direction of a bright brand new day.
Massive efforts, over many years, have been made by both national and international leaders to bring about political and legal reform. While it is important to have a Government up and running at Stormont, the pain and loss sustained by so many people during the Troubles cannot and must not be overlooked. The way forward therefore, must of necessity be formulated on a firm foundation, which undeniably will involve offering hurting people within both communities the space to deal with their painful past. Societal hurt is palpable in many areas across the Northwest and if it is not factored into the healing equation, peace-building efforts will be fragmented and limited. Consequently, there is an urgent requirement to provide hurting people in both communities with opportunities to meet, to talk, to share and to slowly grow in mutual understanding, tolerance and respect for each other.
The singing of carols on the city’s walls in six inches of snow by 250 Protestants, Catholics, Unionists, Loyalists, Nationalists and Republicans close to Christmas was the first step in a process created to introduce a new environment conducive for strangers and enemies to move in the direction of becoming friends and neighbours. The invitation extended to me to participate in Sunday’s Prayer Service is clearly another significant element in this process, which will be further progressed at the re-opening of First Derry Presbyterian Church, when space will be reserved for the people of the Bogside/Brandywell. Additional initiatives will crucially be unwrapped in the coming months aimed at shaping a better-shared future for both Catholics and Protestants, who currently have little or no contact with each other. The city’s two traditions will be encouraged to embark on a journey designed to enable hands throughout the city, not only to reach out towards each other, but also to physically touch. The aspiration inherent within these initiatives is to gently move people towards reconciliation within and across the two communities and to facilitate some helpful transformations for both individuals and communities.
According to Shakespeare, ‘There is a tide in the affairs of men, which taken at the flood leads on to fortune.’ Undeniably Derry/Londonderry’s time has come; a door of opportunity is opening. People are ready to live at peace and build a better future. Therefore, it is incumbent on community leaders, politicians and the churches to offer imaginative leadership that will take this city and its people into a safer, more secure and stable future.