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Even sworn enemies can become the best of friends with time

Thought for the weekend

By Canon Walter Lewis

About this time, you may be reflecting on the Belfast/Good Friday Agreement as its 20th anniversary approaches on April 10.

We may wonder what progress has been made towards peace and justice for everyone here in Northern Ireland.

In 1998, hopes were high that we were moving from a nightmare of savage paramilitary violence into a time of peace.

It was a time of unease and uncertainty as many pondered the wisdom of the release, after two years, of paramilitary prisoners on both sides.

Was this not an undermining of justice in a democratic society? And might this development give tacit permission to those who might resort to the use of such violence?

Broadly speaking, as it has turned out, only a small number of those released broke the terms of the agreement.

It seems that the agreement was a watershed moment in drawing a line under the violent past and building the peaceful society of the future. In the agreement, there was a commitment to the rejection of paramilitary violence and the pursuit of peaceful, democratic politics.

The democratic structure to achieve these goals included north-south bodies, east-west bodies and the creation of an assembly and executive at Stormont.

Since 1998, progress towards the realisation of these structures has sometimes been hopeful, but more often it has been frustrating and difficult, almost to the point of despair - one step forward, two steps back.

What is the reason for this continuous and repeated impasse, particularly at Stormont?

In my experience, I find that there is a high level of impatience in the populace with our politicians on both sides. This is expressed daily in our streets, shops, churches and homes by people whose families and friends cannot get medical attention to relieve the intolerable suffering of their loved ones.

Our politicians preside over this suffering, rather than lifting a hand to help. Surely all of our politicians should set aside party bias and work for the good of everyone?

In this regard, I ask the question, why is our society in Northern Ireland apparently so deeply divided to the point of inflicting unwanted suffering, not only on the sick, but across the whole population?

I think of the people of Europe, particularly in the 20th century. In the last 100 years, most of the countries in Europe have been involved in two devastating and vicious world wars.

France and Germany are a case in point. They fought each other. They bombed each other's countries. Yet, since 1945, they have worked together for the good of both and they have been successful. Over the years, I have been struck by the ability of the people in France and Germany, former sworn enemies, to overcome past unbelievable hurts and animosities and try to get along together.

Both those countries have worked together to build for the future.

Violence and warfare and bitter memories can be put in the past. And people formerly divided can work together for the good of each other. Jesus taught, "Love God", "Love your neighbour", "Love your enemy".

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