‘Stop being prisoners of the past’

Bishop of Derry Dr Donal McKeown.
Bishop of Derry Dr Donal McKeown.

Derry’s Catholic Bishop has told an international peace conference that it’s time to “stop being prisoners of the past”.

Dr. Donal McKeown (pictured) was speaking at the ‘Faithful Peacebuilding’ event in Belfast which is being hosted by the Irish Churches’ Peace Project (ICPP), of which he is chair.

Bishop McKeown - who is representing Catholic Primate Archbishop Eamon Martin at the two-day conference - recalled that it was in about 2008 that a group of “faith-filled people recognised that the Churches in NI could – and ought to – be making a significant, consistent and distinctive contribution to peace building and reconciliation across NI.”

He added: “There was a recognition that, in many ways, religion and churches had also played a less than helpful role in creating and perpetuating our divisions.”

The ICPP, he said, was never an attempt to “win back credibility for ourselves or to re-engage with communities where we had lost sway.”

It was, he insisted, “born out of a spirit of humility and from a desire to serve the Common Good. And it contained an element of repentance – for we cannot ask of others what we are not prepared to do ourselves.”

The ICPP, acknowledged Dr. McKeown, couldn’t do everything – “but we want to do everything that we can.”

He added: “we have emphasised support for local parishes and congregations to meet and to build on what has already existed. This week’s award of the Freedom of the City of Derry-Londonderry to Bishops Edward Daly and James Mehaffey is a sign that, in some places, good inter-church relations in public and private have already been long established and effective in healing old wounds.

“In other places, we had to start with bringing clergy together. Often their previous lack of co-operation was based more on a lack of time or support than on antagonism or enmity. Pastoring your own flock can be strenuous enough. But even though we chose often challenging areas in which to do our work, the response has been very positive and encouraging. There is a lot of good will out there in the churches.”

He added: “We believe it is the duty of all Christians and not just a niche interest for some to help our society move forward. The often uncomfortable truth can set us to stop being prisoners of the past and freed to be architects of our future.”