Wednesday 13 December 2017

Historic 'Hands across Divide' as church leaders and families unite

John Cooney and George Jackson

Most people feel a need to find a way into the future, no matter how great the pain of the past

AN HISTORIC embrace at the Bloody Sunday Memorial in Derry's Bogside of three Protestant church leaders with relatives of victims shot dead 38 years ago by British soldiers, has created a new iconic image of improved relations between Catholics and Protestants.

Though low-key, the powerfully symbolic Derry encounter was applauded by the Catholic bishops as well as the archbishops and bishops of the Church of Ireland at separate meetings in Maynooth and Dublin.

Also attending one of the biggest ever cross-community events held in Derry was the man described in the Saville Report as 'Official IRA 1'.

The man was among several hundred people who witnessed the moving spectacle of the Church of Ireland Bishop of Derry and Raphoe, Ken Good, together with the Presbyterian Moderator, Dr Norman Hamilton, and Methodist President, the Rev Paul Kingston, greet the relatives of the Bloody Sunday dead as well as some of those who were wounded on that dark day.

Fittingly, the location for the meeting was the Bloody Sunday memorial plinth in Rossville Street, erected close to the scenes of the deaths of the 14 unarmed men who were shot dead by paratroopers on January 30, 1972.

To warm applause, the church leaders handed the relatives a replica of Maurice Harron's 'Hand Across the Divide' sculpture which stands at the west end of the city's Craigavon Bridge.

Bishop Good said the people of Derry now needed to seize on the new opportunity to heal differences and build bridges after the findings of the Saville Report.

A minute's silence was then held for all victims of violence during the Troubles. Watching respectfully was Official IRA 1, who stood just outside the railings surrounding the memorial plinth.

Like many of the military, paramilitary and police witnesses who gave evidence to the Saville Report, he was granted anonymity. But Official IRA 1 declined to comment on the report, saying that out of respect for the families he did not want to say anything which could detract from their success in their campaign for justice.

In the report published on Tuesday, he was described as a sniper who fired a single shot at British soldiers sheltering behind a wall beside a Presbyterian church.

But yesterday was a second successive day of reconciliation rather than recrimination in Derry. Bishop Good said a cloud had lifted from over Derry since British Prime Minister David Cameron apologised for the killing of the innocent civilians on the ill-fated civil rights march.


Dr Hamilton said he felt hugely humbled by the warmth of welcome which would strike a chord within the unionist and Protestant community.

"I sense that most people feel a need to find a way into the future, no matter how great the pain of the past," he said.

Mr Kingston said he hoped the Bloody Sunday families would now find relief and healing after the inquiry findings.

Retired Catholic Bishop of Derry Edward Daly, who famously raised a blood-soaked white handkerchief seeking a ceasefire as he guided the dying body of teenager Jackie Duddy from the gunfire on Bloody Sunday, said the church leaders' gesture was more significant than a joint attempt by previous bishops in 1969 to quell tensions.

Meanwhile, the Catholic bishops welcomed the Saville Report and acknowledged the pastoral leadership shown by the representatives of the other churches by their visit to Derry.

Saying they shared the joy and relief of the families of those killed and injured on Bloody Sunday, the bishops acknowledged the hurt and pain of the many people who lost loved ones on these islands during the course of the Troubles.

Irish Independent

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