This post is a bit of a double story - 2 completely unrelated musings.
Lent starts today, Ash Wednesday, the period of 40 days (not inc Sundays), that leads to resurrection Sunday. Christians are meant to use Lent as time of reflection and preparation for Easter. As Jesus fasted in the desert for 40 days, often Christians will give something up for Lent that they will struggle without. Equally some may challenge themselves to do something each day that will be a struggle. I've been trying to achieve 5-a-day (portions of fruit or veg) for about the last 3 weeks and so i plan to sustain this throughout Lent. I know its supposed to be healthy but i have to say it has been playing havoc with my stomach! On top of that i've decided to be coffee free for lent. The greatest difficulty with this one will not be the loss of cafeine but the social aspect - i meet a lot of people for coffee and so it will be odd to drink water or tea! So what are you giving up for Lent if anything???
So I'm doing this training course called PYP (Preparing Youth to be Peacemakers) with PCI. I'm training so that i can facilitate the course with young people in Waringstown. The course explores conflict, specifically within the Northern Ireland context, how this effects us today looking wider than Prod-Catholic, and how we are called to be peacemakers from the life and teachings of Jesus and Scripture.
Yesterday, as part of the course, we got a 2 hour tour up the Falls Road by an Republican ex-prisoner called Padraic, then we met Jake, a loyalist ex-prisoner, who took us on a 90 minute tour of the Shankill Road. What an interesting afternoon! The tour was organised by an organisation called Coiste.
We met Padraic at the Divis flats. Padraic was imprisoned for 15 years in the Maze on 4 separate occasions. The first 3 occasions he informed us that he was accused of murder/attempted murder but there was insufficient evidence for a conviction! He was finally imprisoned and sentenced to 22 years for possession of weapons which came to a head in a shoot out with the RUC in his own home. So having never met a Republican ex-prisoner before i felt a strange tension of discomfort and yet a sense that as we walked up the Falls we were in safe hands! Padraic gave us an unashamedly Republican perspective on Irish history. This was incredibly detailed by someone who obviously had a great passion for the history of our land. He informed me that his interest in history really started in prison as the importance of education was strongly promoted amongst the Republican prisoners. I found the murals interesting along Divis Street very interesting as they highlighted worldwide political issues and oppression such as the Iraq war and the oppression of Palestine.
We met up with Jake at one of the peace barriers that lead onto the Shankill (still closed every evening). This was a friendly handover as the two guides were obviously used to working together. Jake also spent 15 years in prison for attempted murder of 4 Republicans. He said he is thankful now that none of them died but he was caught up in a lot of emotion and hatred at the time. Unfortunately our Loyalist guide came across as much less articulate and educated on the issues at hand and historical facts. Using words like 'them-uns' didn't really help! However, it was evident we were being guided by a typical working-class bloke born and reared in the area through the height of the Troubles. His opening story was his first experience of the conflict and his decision to do his bit as a young boy aged 10, so he went round the area gathering up glass bottles in a pram to aid the petrol bomb industry!
Interestingly, at one point he said that he was happy with the democratic place the country is now in and that he and many of his colleagues would support democratic and fair decisions that come from Stormont. He stated that he and many others in the area are committed to the process and would not lift arms again should a democracy vote for a united Ireland. He acknowledged that he felt this would need to be a slow process of small steps.
All in all it was a really interesting experience to hear two sides of the same story told by men who lived through the conflict and yet view it through very different lenses.