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Is ecumenism and peace only a dream and nothing more?

By Alf McCreary

Published 19/09/2015

Changing times: the Trinity College building on the Antrim Road in Belfast is to be sold
Changing times: the Trinity College building on the Antrim Road in Belfast is to be sold

Many people will be surprised that Trinity College Dublin is selling its former Irish School of Ecumenics building in north Belfast.

The reasons for doing so are partly due to the qualifications associated with this cross-border academic course, but the college apparently intends to maintain a base in Belfast.

However, the demise of the old Irish School of Ecumenics building on the Antrim Road is symbolic of the general atmosphere in this part of the city and province.

Columbanus House was once a flagship for the Churches who were promoting greater togetherness in a deeply divided area. In its early stages, I remember being lobbied by its Jesuit founder, the late Fr Michael Hurley.

For a period, a small number of clerics from different denominations lived there together.

However, one of the sticking points was the failure of the Roman Catholic Church to sanction shared communion, which remains one of the sore points with Protestants who have been working hard for better relations with Catholics.

Ecumenism used to be, and with some people still is, a dirty word, and regretfully so. Many of the Churches here have tried their best to foster good inter-Church relationships, and in my opinion they have gone as far as they can.

Until the Catholic Church approves of Protestants sharing communion with its members, there will be no true Christian unity.

I used to take part in the current system whereby a Protestant can receive a blessing during a Catholic Mass by folding his or her arms across the chest.

However, I finally decided that I did not want anything to do with this kind of "second-class communion", and I am sure there are many others like me.

In the meantime, we will go our own ways at communion and work together as best we can in other areas, but this is far from satisfactory, or, indeed, truly Christian.

Although the Irish School of Ecumenics intends to continue to offer its courses in conflict resolution and reconciliation, the current impasse at Stormont shows how difficult it is to make progress on the ground.

For too long the peace process has been given more credit than it deserves, and the time has come to either move forward significantly or to shut up about the great claims being made by others on our behalf.

Last week, the North East District Synod of the Methodist Church issued a short statement calling on all the parties here and on the British and Irish governments to find ways to work together to make devolved government work effectively for the benefit of all in Northern Ireland.

It was the kind of polite statement that we have come to expect from all the Churches in stating the obvious, but also in trying hard not to offend. However, there are very few Churches or other public bodies here, who are clearly conveying people's utter disgust at most of the politicians, and at the way in which their self-satisfied gamesmanship takes up all their egotistical energy.

What about the suffering people, the needs of education and health, and all the things that dominate our daily lives? Many of our politicians are a disgrace and totally without shame.

There is a danger they will blow it this time, and Northern Ireland will show the world it cannot be left to run its own affairs.

Ecumenism, togetherness, peace - is it only a dream or merely just a topic for academic study and nothing more than that?

Belfast Telegraph

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