Marching - and praying - for a troubled city. Catholics and Protestants in Belfast join hands in a walk for peace

IT began with singing and Psalms - a quiet march that brought together some 1,500 Protestants and Roman Catholics in prayer for their troubled city. In 1976 and '77 as many as 40,000 people turned out for the peace marches led by Mairead Corrigan and Betty Williams.

Those days are gone. The world-famous movement founded and led by two women, one a Catholic and the other a Protestant, floundered on personality clashes after the women won the 1976 Nobel Peace Prize. Publicized peace marching gave way to modest attempts at peacemaking that still go on today.

But for the people who turned out last Friday - Good Friday - there was a different feeling. Still shocked by the recent murderous events here - violent attacks that claimed the lives of three local Catholics and two British soldiers - these marchers came, not to publicize a cause, but from a personal desire to stand for peace.

`I just felt I needed to come'

``It's hard to explain,'' said one woman, who walked with the quiet procession through two of Belfast's most notoriously hard-line Protestant and Catholic neighborhoods.

``I just felt I needed to come.''

Under the watchful eye of local security forces, who lined the route to ensure the safety of marchers (halting the march once to check out a bomb scare), Protestants and Catholics walked behind a simple wooden cross and a banner reading, ``Christ is our peace.''

At the Peace Wall - a barrier built years ago to separate hostile Catholic and Protestant neighborhoods - the marchers squeezed through a small door, one or two at a time, singing the old hymn ``Amazing Grace.''

On both sides of the wall, people stood in doorways, watching. Children crowded at windows, waving at the marchers. Some local residents called the procession a waste of time. Others were kinder, smiling and calling out, ``God bless you.''

Hecklers restrained

Only once, on the Shankill Road, a working-class Protestant stronghold, did nastiness explode. Women and teen-agers blocked the road, screaming obscenities and slurs. A rock was thrown, but no one was hurt. Police moved in to restrain the hecklers and the march continued.

Rain fell, gently at first, then in a steady pour, as the marchers came to the end of their walk on a grassy hillside at a local park. They finished as they had begun, with prayer and song. As the marchers turned to leave, the sun broke through the clouds. A full rainbow spread across the early evening sky.

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