By RICHARD DOWDEN
This year the theme chosen for Peace Sunday by Pope Paul is "Peace depends on you too." The following article evaluates the response by Christians in this country to the situation in Northern Ireland during the last four years and offers a new suggestion for those who want to help. Northern Ireland used to act upon people in this country like a frightful and fatal air crash. Everyone was shocked. As usual shock either ended with shock or was followed up by recriminations about the causes and ideas for preventive measures. There were those, and still are, who, blaming the crash on the panicking victims, pointed a finger at "the Irish". Especially after British soldiers began to be killed in Northern Ireland there was a strong feeling of "Let them fight it out themselves."
Others spurred on by a deep concern pursued knowledge into the morass of Irish history and current Northern Ireland politics. Some gave up. others went on. People arranged holidays for children from Belfast and others sent money and this was and is extremely helpful but it is done sometimes in the way aid„is sometimes seht to disaster areas in the Third World.
Compassion and guilt help to relieve the suffering but do not lead to an attempt to understand the causes. Catholic Irish people in this country felt very strongly and deeply about Northern Ireland but some hid from it as if it were an evil ghost returning from a past they had escaped from and some. believing they knew the causes only too well, found a smouldering resentment catch light again. The official church policy was that Northern Ireland came under a different hierarchy and therefore any action or statement was "interfering".
Now a new spirit of real
political progress based on power sharing has given many the excuse to say, "hut for a few fanatics, Northern Ireland is coming back to the traditional British way of life. The Northern Ireland problem is at an end, it was a political problem and it is being solved by politicians, there is no point in anyone here doing anything."
Quite apart from the possibility that power sharing may not work and things may get worse in Northern Ireland, this view is dangerously wrong. Until it is realised that the problem hasn't gone away and that it isn't something "over there", a diseased limb.which has a sore on it, and we begin to see the Northern Ireland problem as central and crucial to our own society and future, can we really begin to offer any genuine assistance.
The situation that has existed in Northern Ireland certainly in the last four years is not merely a quarrel between the political, religious and social beliefs of two communities which are distinctly different and separate from ours, but a profound trauma which may he the questioning of the direction of our own politics, religion and society, and from which may grow some of the answers to our current state of bafflement.
When we recognise this it will become clear that not only can we offer the Northern Ireland community more substantial help than we have done so far, but also as we listen and pray, give and work, our involvement will help us to learn from Northern Ireland.
Early last year I was fortunate enough to listen to four mothers from Belfast, two Catholic, two Protestant, who had just come to the end of a week-long visit to a "problem" neighbourhood in north London. This visit had been arranged by the local parish, but it wasn't just to "give the mums a break." The women spent the week visiting community projects and play schemes and sharing in some of the ideas that were being put into practice in an area which suffers particularly from poverty, class segregation, racialism and property developers, not to mention the usual urban sicknesses of a community in disintegration.
At the end of the week the four women, given hope and encouragement, were able to evaluate in the glaring light of Belfast ghetto life, what they had seen and experienced, and also to tell us about Belfast in terms of the problems in our area. There were a great many common denominators, so I wasn't surprised when a' dignitary from South Wales said at a meeting on Northern Ireland held recently that he expected the British army to he operating in the streets of Cardiff in ten years and he had cane to learn what to do about it.
If we begin with prayer about Northern Ireland, in praying we must discover our own prejudices and analyse what we feel and why we feel it. We must try to know what it is to have Belfast as one's home and to understand the hearts and minds of those who continue to kill and bomb.
The Justice and Peace Commission has asked people to give particular attention to Northern Ireland on Peace Sunday this year. A booklist, a list of organisations which need help and a list of ways in which people in this country can help in the Northern Ireland problem are available from the commission. whose address is 44 Grays Inn Road, London WCIX 8LR. Richard Dowden is assistant secretary of the cornmission but gives a personal view in this article.