Service uniting Troubles victims hears call for both sides to pray for progress
Families who lost loved ones on Bloody Sunday and in the Claudy bombings joined in worship yesterday where they heard that "Protestant churches should pray for members of Sinn Fein, and Catholic ones should pray for the DUP" in a bid to move Northern Ireland forward.
Rev David Latimer, who led the unity service at First Derry Presbyterian Church, said the coming together of all sides would "soften the atmosphere" and make change possible.
The city's Sinn Fein mayor Maoliosa McHugh and Foyle DUP MLA Gary Middleton read lessons. Rev Latimer said he hoped the service would help people move forward.
"Nowhere is perfect at the moment, but in this city it is possible to bring people together - like the Bloody Sunday families and Claudy families, like Gary Middleton from the DUP and Sinn Fein's Maoliosa McHugh," he said. "Here are people who have all kinds of views as to why we are where we are.
"But they are willing to come together because I think we have to grasp opportunities and see them as the time for showing to ourselves and everyone else that we need to move forward.
"Today in church I suggested ways of going further, like, for example, Catholic priests in their services mentioning the DUP and UUP by name and Protestant churches praying for Michelle O'Neill and Colum Eastwood. It's not rocket science, but maybe it could just soften the whole atmosphere.
"When we're softened we are in a better place to start listening to one another and talking with each other and seeing how we can move forward together to see how we can shape this place for the good of all of us."
Among those listening in the congregation was Jean Hegarty, who lost her brother Kevin McElhinney (17) on Bloody Sunday.
"Just to do anything ecumenical is a positive and it's nice to see it happening," she said.
Mark Aiken, who lost his little sister Kathryn (8) in the Claudy atrocity, also took part. "The Rev Latimer, who had dealings with Martin McGuinness and got me speaking with him, invited me, and I decided to go and I don't see anything wrong with it. It was in a house of God," he said.
"If we can't all agree in a house of God, God forbid us, there is no way forward. If we don't talk to each other we are never going to get answers to the questions that we all want. There is no point giving off about things not being done whenever people wouldn't speak to this person or that person. That won't get anybody anywhere."
Mr McHugh said he was delighted to get the opportunity to speak to the Presbyterian community. "It wasn't just a case of going along as a gesture of politics," he said. "I always think of an Irish expression, which roughly translates as we all live in each other's shadows. This was an opportunity to share that with the Presbyterian community."