Addressing the evil of sectarianism: Bill Shaw on life, faith, and hope

The retreat and conference centre run by the Passionate community, Tobar Mhuire, was the venue for a guided interview with Bill Shaw, presented as an opportunity “to explore their experience of life, faith, and where they find sources of hope in their lives”. The event was included as part of Good Relations Week 2023. Brian McKee, a professional facilitator and director of Seedlings, welcomed the attendees and invited Shaw to start from the beginning. Declaring himself, “I’m from Sandy Row,” …

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Good Relations Week

Last week was Good Relations Week, the annual Community Relations Council event that aims to build relationships between people of different backgrounds in Northern Ireland, including across the traditional Catholic and Protestant divisions and also people of differing ethnicities. You might say this remains work in progress, which is not the fault of the CRC. Northern Ireland remains a toxically divided society – exemplified, and arguably amplified, by the inability of the two largest parties of the two largest communities …

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Being churches together: celebrating a reconciling vision of hope

A “Being Churches together in 21st Century Ireland” symposium took place at Dublin City University (DCU), as part of a number of events marking the centenary of the Irish Council of Churches (ICC) and 50 years since the Ballymascanlon talks that led to the formation of the Irish Inter-Church Meeting (IICM). Bishop Brendan Leahy (IICM Co-Chair) began with a prayer before putting this year’s anniversary events in the context of continuing a “celebration of our reconciling vision of hope”: “We …

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Why do we still have ‘peace walls’?

Why, a quarter of a century after the Good Friday Agreement, do we still have peace walls and interface barriers? The truth, of course, is that the peace deal ended the conflict, but failed to end division and embed reconciliation. Murdered journalist Lyra McKee famously wrote that more ‘peace walls’ have gone up since the GFA than have come down. This is despite a strategy from the The Executive Office containing the target to remove them all by 2023. Yet …

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Why is Cardinal Vincent Nichols still Archbishop of Westminster?

He is now approaching his 78th birthday, nearly three years after offering his resignation to Pope Francis in accordance with the Catholic Church’s rules that bishops must do so on their 75th birthday, yet there is no sign of a successor being appointed. While it is normal for bishops to remain on for some time after their 75th birthday while a successor is being chosen, the apparent lack of urgency in finding a new prelate to head the most senior …

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There are fewer members of Dáil Éireann today from religious minorities than there were 30 years ago…

It’s a matter of surprise to me that there are fewer members of Dáil Éireann today from religious minorities than there were 30 years ago, despite the Republic being a much more diverse society. At that time there were three members of the Church of Ireland in the Dáil – Ivan Yates of Fine Gael, Jan O’Sullivan of Labour and the late Johnny Fox, an independent. There were also three Jews – Ben Briscoe of Fianna Fáil, Alan Shatter of …

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Christianity and disability…

People with disabilities of various kinds have become increasingly visible in recent decades, with the focus shifting away from ‘pity’ to a sense of equality and the need for society to make adjustments to allow such people to take their rightful place in the workforce and in community groups. I have been thinking lately about how the Christian churches fit into this, and more specifically how the approach on sexual matters links into this. Articles like this one reflect on …

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The land of informal Saints and Scholars…

a statue of a person holding a torch

Ireland has long been known as the ‘Land of Saints and Scholars’ and yet the vast majority of those honoured are saints lived in the days before canonisation became a formal procedure. Up to the 12th century, one was ‘acclaimed’ by the local church as a saint, with the idea that it had to go to Rome only being introduced at that stage. In 1170, Pope Alexander III declared that no one should be honoured as a saint without papal …

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Cardinal Paul Cullen – Dons, Popes, Brits and Fenians…

Cardinal Paul Cullen was a colossus who towered above Victorian Ireland. So why, today, is he so unfamiliar and so unloved? Some historians say he was the most significant Irishman between O’Connell and Parnell; but many others do not. Cullen’s detractors seize upon four touchstone areas – dons, popes, Brits and Fenians. Lazy judgements often follow. From the outset, it is important to recognise Cullen’s extraordinary ascent. The son of a strong farmer from County Kildare, his piety and precocious …

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The Radical Hospitality of Peacemaking

David Porter was a co-founder and director of ECONI. He left Belfast in 2008 to lead the international reconciliation ministry at Coventry Cathedral, before being appointed by Archbishop Justin Welby in 2013 as his Director for Reconciliation. He became Chief of Staff at Lambeth Palace in 2016, retiring from that role in November 2022. It was the helicopters, that potent background hum of troubles Belfast, that signalled what progress was being made or not made. Our home sat just below …

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The close conjunction of Jewish, Christian and Muslim festivals this month is very interesting in a rapidly changing Ireland…

the ceiling of a cathedral with a colorful design

The next couple of weeks will see a close calendar alignment of the Jewish Passover (5th – 13th April), the Roman Catholic and Protestant Easter (9th April), the Eastern and Oriental Orthodox Easter (16th April), and the end of Ramadan (21st April). Our newest faith communities in Ireland – Orthodox Christian and Muslim – now number about 80,000 each and join over 20,000 Pentecostals (African, Latin American and Romanian) as the fastest growing religious groups on our rapidly changing island. …

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The State of Ireland’s ‘Soul’: Results from a New Survey on Religion

A new poll commissioned by the Iona Institute confirms that Mass attendance in the Republic has still not reached its pre-pandemic levels. And it highlights a stark lack of engagement among regular Mass-goers with the Church’s synodal process – a worldwide initiative that Pope Francis hopes will renew the church. The survey also asked an unusual question about the ‘soul’ of the nation: ‘In your opinion, has Ireland lost her soul?’ Forty percent of the general population said yes, 23% …

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Offer of help with truth recovery process at Irish Council of Churches centenary service

The Irish Council of Churches (ICC) — an all-island body with membership from Protestant, Orthodox, Reformed, and independent church traditions — marked its centenary with a joint service of worship at St Anne’s Cathedral, Belfast. With the theme of “Celebrating our Reconciling Vision of Hope”, the special service also marked the 50th anniversary of the Ballymascanlon Talks, which led to the establishment of the Irish Inter-Church Meeting (IICM), the means by which the ICC continues to engage and collaborate with …

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Review of ‘The Ghost Limb’ by Claire Mitchell: Finding the Spirit of 1798

The Ghost Limb: Alternative Protestants and the Spirit of 1798, is a meditation on the journey of its author, Claire Mitchell, through what she calls the ‘1798 dreamtime.’ Mitchell, who was born into Northern Ireland’s Protestant community, relates how she began to feel like Irish aspects of her identity and heritage had been cut off. For Mitchell, this loss manifested itself like a ghost limb, experienced as an existential ache for Irish language, landscape, and culture. Perhaps it goes without …

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Review of ‘Beauty through Broken Windows’ on the World Day of the Poor

Today is the ‘World Day of the Poor’, observed in the Catholic Church since 2017 when it was established by Pope Francis. It’s a day to remind Christians of their obligations to follow Christ’s example to pursue justice for the poor. A new book, Beauty through Broken Windows: Empowering Edmund Rice’s Vision Today, edited by Aidan Donaldson and Denis Gleeson, is an excellent resource for learning more about how Christians around the world are living out such a vision. The …

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Review of Triangle: Three Novellas of Ireland by Pól Ó Muirí

What happens in a society when previously dominant traditions of religion, spirituality, and morality crumble and then proceed to disintegrate at break-neck speed? The island of Ireland could be considered something of a sociological case study in this regard. The ‘holy Catholic Ireland’ of the Republic has been discredited and denigrated. The often oppositional Christian traditions of Northern Ireland also seem destined for inexorable decline. Analysis of the rise of those who claim they have ‘no religion’ can only be …

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And No Religion, Too: Who are the ‘Nones’?

Who are the people who choose the ‘no religion’ or ‘none of the above’ categories on a Census or other survey? As discussed in my post last week, for Northern Ireland’s 2021 Census we cannot say that with confidence, because all the data has not yet been released. But we can probably assume that they are more likely to be from Protestant backgrounds, to live in a Protestant majority area, and to be young (under 35). If Northern Ireland’s trends …

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Religion in Northern Ireland: What does the Census tell us?

The 2021 Census tells us that people in Northern Ireland are much more likely to identify as Christians, of one type or another, than people in most other parts of Europe. Nearly 80 percent of the population identified as Christians in the Census: 42 percent as Catholic and 37 percent as Protestant or other Christian denominations. But the Census also confirmed a significant rise in those who indicated that they have ‘no religion’, from 10 percent in 2011 to 17 …

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