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Fr O'Donnell's appointment a great step on the road to reconciliation

By Alf McCreary

Published 01/10/2016

Building bridges: Fr Edward O’Donnell (left), parish priest of St Brigid’s, Belfast, after being installed as an Ecumenical Canon of St Anne’s Cathedral with Dean John Mann
Building bridges: Fr Edward O’Donnell (left), parish priest of St Brigid’s, Belfast, after being installed as an Ecumenical Canon of St Anne’s Cathedral with Dean John Mann

It is fashionable in some circles to dismiss the Churches as irrelevant and, although some of the main churches are still maddeningly conservative, there are a number of individuals who continue to work for better community relations.

One such is the Very Rev John Mann, Dean of St Anne's Cathedral, where Fr Edward O'Donnell was installed last Sunday as an honorary Ecumenical Canon.

There was a protest outside by members of the Free Presbyterian Church,but most people are taking it in their stride. It's not as if Fr O'Donnell's appointment is earth-shattering.

Catholic Canons have already been appointed by the Church of Ireland in Armagh and Dublin.

Credit is due to Fr O'Donnell in taking up the post and also to his superiors for allowing him to do so. It is a small step in terms of ecumenical co-operation in the global church, but in the continuing and confined narrowness of Northern Ireland church life it is to be welcomed.

Dean Mann, no doubt, will have consulted his Cathedral Chapter and his superiors before announcing the appointment, but it is all part of his understated way of making St Anne's fit for purpose in the demanding climate of 21st century secularism and materialism.

John Mann inherited a badly-divided charge when he took over as Dean, but he has worked quietly to bring about healing and to keep St Anne's as a major spiritual focus, which is part of its mission in Belfast.

Individual church members, as well as the laity, have also played a part in brokering a settlement in the Ardoyne, after several years of fractious disagreement, and a whopping tax-payers' bill to police it.

The seeds have surely been sown for a lasting peace, and that is due to the hard work of a number of individuals.

Praise is due to the Londonderry businessman Jim Roddy, who has valuable experience of negotiating peace settlements, and also to Fr Gary Donegan, who celebrated his last Mass at the Holy Cross Church in Ardoyne shortly after the news of a settlement was reached.

Another churchman who played an important role was the Rev Dr Harold Good, a former Methodist President who has spent a lifetime's ministry in crossing divides and building bridges.

I have known Harold Good for several decades, starting from the years when he worked for the Corrymeela Community at Ballycastle, and his early experience during the worst of the Troubles made a deep impression on him.

Harold Good worked with the late Fr Alec Reid in helping to verify the IRA's decommissioning of arms and in 2007 he was deservedly given the World Methodist Peace Award.

The people I have mentioned have made the headlines because of their work, but there are many others in churches of all denominations who strive tirelessly in the background to make peace possible.

Their bridge-building may seem relatively unimportant, but it does not need a high profile to be effective. Sometimes peace-making has to remain in the background because too much publicity too quickly might shrivel the tiny blossoms of peace that are emerging from disputed ground.

The major challenge, of course, is that the work of peace is never finished. Each day there are new challenges and they have to be met with the same determination and tact which led to settlements in the past.

One gaping sore remains Drumcree, which has been festering away for far too long. Up to now the Church and State authorities have failed to solve it, as have the members of Portadown District Orange Order and representatives of the Garvaghy residents.

Given the recent successes elsewhere, all involved with Drumcree should redouble their efforts to find an agreement.

Hopefully there are talks taking place somewhere in the background and peace there must eventually prevail, for the sake of everyone.

Blessed are the peacemakers indeed.

Belfast Telegraph

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