Churches Contributing to Reconciliation? Reflections on the Clonard-Fitzroy Fellowship

clonard banner1Regular readers of this blog will know that one of its main concerns is exploring how Christians can contribute to reconciliation on this island.

The longstanding Clonard-Fitzroy Fellowship has been well-researched (see Ronald Wells’ Friendship Towards Peace and Hope and Reconciliation in Northern Ireland) and praised for its contributions throughout the Troubles.

And its work continues. Over the last several months Clonard-Fitzroy has hosted conversations about reconciliation with Sinn Fein’s Declan Kearney and the Progressive Unionist Party’s (PUP) John Kyle. Last week, the Fellowship brought the two together for a joint conversation in Fitzroy.

I was away and unable to attend, but one of the students on our Master’s in Conflict Resolution and Reconciliation, Armorel Jackson, was kind enough to record it for me. (Of course, I managed to give her a recorder with a fading battery, so I missed a significant chunk of what was said.) In the coming days, I may post the about what I was able to learn from the aborted recording.

But today I want to focus on the usefulness of the conversation process that Clonard-Fitzroy has created.

In his opening remarks before the event, Ed Petersen, a Reconciliation Officer at Clonard, explained that the Fellowship had made a submission to the Haass Talks on flags, parading and dealing with the past.

As they drafted the submission, Petersen said they came across a paper written by Fr Alec Reid about pastoral ministry and political violence. Petersen said that ‘the heart of his little paper was a quote’:

“We must begin by lifting our eyes to a vision of peace we want to create.” (Fr Alec Reid)

Petersen said Clonard-Fitzroy’s Haass submission began by indicating their interest in helping to shape and agree a vision for the future. Second, it included a commitment to ‘help expand the political space in which our elected representatives feel able to lead us toward a shared and better future.’

Petersen explained that the events with Kearney and Kyle were part of an effort to create such a space, ‘to be of help in any way we can’ and ‘to offer prayerful support.’

I know from previous events that people in attendance appreciated the reasoned, yet passionate, way Kearney and Kyle explained their own positions, as well as the positions of people their parties represent. And at the beginning of last week’s discussion, both Kearney and Kyle remarked that they had come away from those evenings challenged by questions that they might otherwise never have been asked.

Critics and cynics may complain that conversations with the (predominantly middle class) Christians of Fitzroy and Clonard aren’t ‘expanding the political space’ all that much. But we have to start somewhere.

Today on the Compromise after Conflict blog, Prof John Paul Lederach writes:

The politics of peace processes prefer pragmatics over creativity, expediency over honesty, and blame over dignity.  We find it hard to live with the ambiguity formed by the murky windows we all peer through, which we assume are accurate and clear.  They are not.  We peer into past, present and future through a glass lit dimly.

Unless we keep expanding our ‘political spaces,’ bit by bit, we won’t be able to nurture the creativity, honesty and dignity that Lederach writes about. Creating these spaces is not simple or easy. It will take some time to reach a ‘critical mass’ of these spaces.

Clonard-Fitzroy seeks a shared future in which reconciliation rather than dominance or co-existence is the vision. Will others join them?

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