Building toward peace in Ulster

A TELEPHONE hot line for the suicidal and despairing, a hospice for those deemed terminally ill, a housing association for the elderly ... are these building blocks for peace in Northern Ireland? Sydney Callaghan thinks so.

In fact, the Rev. Sydney Callaghan, a Methodist minister, is convinced that without tending to human needs -- to issues of housing, unemployment, discrimination, human despair -- there can be no real peace within a community, let alone among nations.

``Any society that treats any individual with less than human dignity, any society that doesn't provide for the person to find fulfillment and enrichment, any society that debases or devalues human worth, is a society that has a built-in destruct [mechanism] within it,'' he says. ``It is not at peace, it cannot be.''

``You have got to recognize that you don't just have peace by having peace marches,'' he says. ``You have got to look at and work with deep-seated problems, not only in the human psyche, but in society.''

In the nearly 25 years the Rev. Mr. Callaghan has ministered in Belfast, his faith has led him into a form of community activism that he sees as a natural outgrowth of his desire to follow Christ Jesus, to be a peacemaker.

His work cuts across the Protestant-Roman Catholic divide in Northern Ireland, also known as Ulster. Every community organization Mr. Callaghan has helped to found -- including the hospice, the suicide hot line, and the housing association -- has purposely ignored religious labels, bringing together Catholics and Protestants as both helpers and the helped.

The result?

Nothing that would make the nightly news, perhaps. But quite often, in the course of trying to meet a community need, these organizations have inadvertently become bridge builders between the Catholic and Protestant communities of Northern Ireland. They have allowed individuals from differing traditions to meet as friends instead of as enemies.

``I know of a middle-aged teacher who told me he was a Catholic, and that he had never met a Protestant socially until he joined the Samaritans,'' says Mr. Callaghan, referring to the 24-hour Samaritan suicide hot line that he helped to establish here more than 20 years ago.

``This man had grown up in the Catholic community, gone to a Catholic school, gone to a Catholic teachers' training college, and taught in a Catholic school,'' he continues. ``He said it was only in the Samaritans that he began to meet with people of other traditions.

``Maybe that's not world-shattering,'' Mr.Callaghan concedes. ``But to suddenly discover that you have a common humanity with someone else -- that realization erodes some of the built-in animosities and dislikes you've grown up with; because you can't really dislike the person who has a human face, the person who you've maybe shared tears with, shared laughter with.''

Helping Catholics and Protestants discover their common humanity is a hallmark of Mr. Callaghan's ministry. In a society where people often half jokingly say, ``I know a lot of Protestants and I know a lot of Catholics, but I know very few Christians,'' Mr. Callaghan is often referred to as ``a truly Christian man.''

``People really need to experience someone who cares for them in the world today, and he really shows that he does care, and he cares for everyone,'' says the Rev. Dennis Newberry, a Catholic priest who, like the Rev. Mr. Callaghan, serves as a chaplain at Belfast's Royal Victoria Hospital.

Mr. Callaghan ``doesn't say, `This is my lot, that's your lot,''' says Fr. Newberry. ``His flock is very, very extensive. It includes everyone.''

Caring for his flock takes a variety of forms for the Rev. Mr.Callaghan -- from Sunday sermons that grapple with the need for forgiveness in a society in which more than 2,500 people have been killed in bitter sectarian strife in the past 17 years, to visiting with a Catholic widow whom he first befriended more than a decade ago, when her husband was killed by a gang of Protestants.

One Christmas, Mr. Callaghan invited the wealthy Methodist congregation that he was serving at the time to go caroling in one of the poorest Catholic neighborhoods in Belfast. Many church members didn't show up. One friend of Mr. Callaghan's called to say she would be praying for the group's safety. Local police said they could promise the group no protection. Mr. Callaghan was undaunted. As the carolers walked through the Catholic housing project, windows began to light up and doors opened. Catholics joined the singers in a peaceful, moving celebration of the Christmas spirit.

However, like many other Belfast citizens who are quietly working to build peace among Catholics and Protestants, Mr. Callaghan doesn't seek publicity for his efforts. In fact, he avoids it whenever possible.

No one here has forgotten Mairead Corrigan and Betty Williams, the two Belfast women -- one a Catholic, the other a Protestant -- who started a peace movement that won them the 1976 Nobel Peace Prize, but which ultimately crumbled under the stress of fame, money, and political inexperience. Only a fragment of the movement carries on.

``The making of peace is a much, more complex thing than peace marching, much more demanding than going along with a banner or shouting a slogan,'' says the Rev. Mr. Callaghan. ``The making of peace is a lifetime operation, it's not just a program that you take up and put down.

``Peacemaking means hard work,'' he continues. ``It means blood and sweat and tears. Anybody can go for a march, anybody can go for a walk. But I'm reminded of the great line from the poet Christina Rossetti, `Does the road wind uphill all the way? Yes, right to the very end.'''

There are, in fact, people in Northern Ireland who view Mr. Callaghan's work as an uphill road leading nowhere. These skeptics applaud the good intentions of people such as him, but they contend that it is impossible to reconcile two communities that hold two apparently irreconcilable views of the future: Protestants almost overwhelmingly want Northern Ireland to continue as part of the United Kingdom, while many Catholics want to be united with the Republic of Ireland in the south.

``They're toiling against the tide,'' says Barry White, who writes for the Belfast Telegraph. ``I'm sorry to say people like Sydney [Callaghan] are just beacons in the storm. The storm still rages. They keep hope alive for a lot of people like myself in the media, but I couldn't say they've had a very material impact on the situation.''

The Rev. Mr. Callaghan knows it may be many years before the seeds of peace that have been sown in Northern Ireland finally yield a harvest, however modest. In fact, he even says he doesn't think there is a real will for peace among Protestants and Catholics in the province at the present time.

But Mr. Callaghan's work must be understood in the framework of his faith. What keeps him going, he says, ``is a certain profound, gut feeling that right is stronger than wrong, and that good will overcome evil.'' He frequently quotes the line: ``Better to light one candle than to curse the darkness.''

``The cynic may say, `Well, what is one candle in a huge big world?''' he says. ``And that is true. But the further truth is that not all the darkness in this world can put out the light of one small candle.'' Do you know a peacemaker

If you know an individual, anywhere in the world, who is actively involved in reducing violent confrontation between people, we invite you to tell us. Selected individuals will be contacted by the Monitor for future peacemaker profiles. To be considered, nominees must: Be people, not organizations Be personally involved in resolving violent confrontations Have a record of success in working out peaceful solutions PEACEMAKERS HIGHLIGHTED SO FAR Marianne Diaz, who prevents street-gang violence in the barrios of Los Angeles. May 8 Nico Smith, a white South African minister who tries to bridge South Africa's black-white divide. May 21. Dennis Wittman, who reconciles victims and their assailants in New York. June 24. Robert Marovic, a high school student who resolves disputes between fellow students in New York. July 1.

COMING SOON Reducing tensions between local citizens and Muslim Shiites in Houston. Easing the strain between New Yorkers and recent arrivals from the Dominican Republic.

Send your letters to: The Christian Science Monitor, One Norway Street, Boston, Mass. 02115, Attention: Editor for Special Projects/P214 (Peacemaker). Please include your address and phone number.

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