Peace building through forgiveness in Northern Ireland

A Christian Science perspective.

A most remarkable thing happened last week in Britain: the peaceful resolution in Northern Ireland between the Protestant and the Catholic communities. On Feb. 8, three Ulster terror groups deemed responsible for many terrorists acts in Northern Ireland laid down their arms hours before the British government’s granting of amnesty. This happened after another group, the Official Irish Republican Army, had destroyed their guns. Earlier still, INLA (Irish National Liberation Army), a splinter group, disarmed and disposed of their explosives and firearms.

They all laid down their arms without a fight. For one day, the front pages of all the newspapers covered the event, and then no more was mentioned, as if it were a very natural happening.

Peace is natural, is normal, and wars and conflict that bring acts of terrorism are unnatural and not normal. Since we are all the children of one infinite God, good, then unity and harmony between each one of us is the natural outcome of a loving Father-Mother’s care and provision for all His-Her children.

Many believe that peace in Northern Ireland was the result of brave acts of individual forgiveness that moved people to start a whole new movement and push for peace in their communities.

It was courageous acts of forgiveness and reconciliation and commitment to peace from people such as Jo Berry. Her father was one of six people killed in 1984 by a bomb planted by the IRA. Despite her grief, she joined forces with other victims of IRA conflict and worked to build bridges between people. Several years later, she met with Pat Magee, the man responsible for planting the bomb, and together they started an organization called Building Bridges For Peace.

Another organization promoting peace was formed by two women. In 1976, the tragic death of three children brought together Betty Williams, a housewife who witnessed the event, and Mairead Corrigan, the children’s aunt, to start a peace movement. Thousands of Catholics and Protestants joined, and both women received the 1976 Nobel Peace Prize. From individuals’ adversity came a bigger act of forbearance, which eventually led to large-scale parliamentary activity for peaceful negotiations.

Forgiveness is a most important aspect of Jesus’ teachings. When his disciple Peter asked if forgiving his neighbor seven times was enough, Jesus replied, “Seventy times seven” (Matt. 18:22).

Peter learned that forgiveness has no conditions attached to it, but rather it is an act of grace. It is infinite divine Love that is reflected from the Father of all love. Jesus practiced what he taught. On the cross he prayed, “Father, forgive them; for they know not what they do” (Luke 23:34).

Jesus taught his disciples to pray for what they needed. He instructed them to ask their Father-God, “Give us this day our daily bread.” The next verse of that prayer sets the condition for that provision: “And forgive us our debts, as we forgive our debtors” (Matt. 6:11, 12).

Mary Baker Eddy, who founded Christian Science, wrote a spiritual interpretation of the Lord’s Prayer in her book “Science and Health with Key to the Scriptures”: “Give us this day our daily bread; Give us grace for to-day; feed the famished affections; And forgive us our debts, as we forgive our debtors. And Love is reflected in love” (p. 17).

Grace is the spiritual bread God gives us to be able to forgive. Love is “for giving.” Unconditional love is the act of grace that forgives that which to the human mind seems unforgivable. It includes letting go and forgetting the wrong that was done. This is the boundless Love that is reflected back in the peace and healing it brings to communities where individuals start that process of peace-building through forgiveness and reconciliation.

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