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UPF-Ireland Recalls Good Friday Agreement

Belfast, Northern Ireland—Stormont, the site of Northern Ireland’s Parliament Buildings, was the location of the UPF-Ireland annual Peace Road Walk to mark UN International Day of Peace.

On September 24, 2023, participants gathered from all four corners of Ireland, and indeed the world, for interfaith prayers on the grounds of Stormont Park with the beautiful backdrop of Stormont Parliament Buildings.

After the short walk from Stormont Hotel, participants held hands and formed a circle around an inner circle of representatives of various faith communities.

Marissa Goldstone-Leavold (Baptist), Sudhansh Verma (Hindu), Diadeen Ahmed (Islam), Linda Ervine MBE (Presbyterian) and Catríona O’Higgins-Thiebault (Catholic) all solemnly offered beautiful prayers and readings to our Heavenly Parent, God. They gave thanks for peace in Ireland and for the new political dispensation brought about by the Good Friday Agreement, emphasizing the importance of building on this to ensure we never again have violence and conflict in Northern Ireland.

After the walk and prayers, the after-lunch program began at the nearby Stormont Hotel, where keynote addresses were given on this year’s theme: “GFA @ 25, Implications for Interfaith Peace & Reconciliation.”

The opening address from emcee Colm Ó Cionnaith, UPF-Ireland secretary general, was titled “Celebrating 25 Years of the Good Friday Agreement.” Mr. Ó Cionnaith, currently a master’s degree candidate at the HJI Graduate School of Peace and Public Leadership in New York, read excerpts from his paper set for publication in the Journal of Unification Studies in January 2024: a synopsis of the history of the agreement, the background behind it, and the potential challenges it faces in the future.

He emphasized that the Good Friday (or Belfast) Agreement is an example of a successful peace process from which participants of other conflicts can draw inspiration, but one which we should not be complacent about, particularly when the institutions of the GFA are still in a state of political stalemate.

Hon. Keith Best, chair of the UPF-UK Board of Trustees, gave a power presentation based on his experience as a member of parliament in a Conservative government which suffered directly in the conflict. Mr. Best told how he had been present at the 1984 Conservative Party conference at a hotel in Brighton, England, which was bombed by the Irish Republican Army. Five persons were killed by the bomb planted by Patrick Magee, including his friend Anthony Berry.

Mr. Best told the journey of forgiveness and reconciliation of Anthony Berry’s daughter, Jo, now a peace activist and public speaker.

“After her father’s death, rather than nurturing what would have been an understandable loathing of his killers, she committed her life to peaceful resolution and mediation of conflict. … Her reconciliation work … featured in the [2012 documentary] film Beyond Right and Wrong.”

Mr. Best went on to describe Patrick Magee’s journey. In his 2021 book, Where Grieving Begins: Building Bridges after the Brighton Bomb – a Memoir, Magee “chronicles the profound experience of meeting Jo and the extraordinary work they have done together.” This was one of many personal experiences Mr. Best relayed to the audience in his very moving address.

Professor Omar Escalona, in his keynote address, “A Global Peace Road Perspective of the NI-GB Tunnel/Bridge Project: Towards a Sustainable Peaceful and Freedom Compliant Humanity,” set out the various proposals for a “Peace Road link” between Northern Ireland and Great Britain and the feasibility of each of the options.

Professor Escalona, who teaches at Ulster University, gave an overview of the international Peace Road project initiated by UPF founder Rev. Dr. Sun Myung Moon in the early 1980s and the vision of uniting the world through a highway that could stretch from “Dublin to Santiago in Chile,” if only the missing pieces of infrastructure were built, especially the Japan-Korea and Bering Strait sections and the link between Ireland and Britain.

Such a connection surely would help break down barriers of race, nationality, and culture as the benefits of trade and economic development could assist the creation of peaceful relations throughout the globe, Professor Escalona said.

Councilor Yemi Adenuga from County Meath, Ireland, livened up proceedings with a rousing and at times humorous presentation which left everyone with food for thought and heartwarming nuggets of wisdom and hope. Councilor Adenuga enlightened the assembled on how pride in self and home and in higher values was crucial, and she stressed the importance of active listening and sharing with others in a spirit of tolerance and respect and honesty.

Roos Demol, co-founder and CEO of International Community Dynamics, gave an overview of her work and life in Ireland, where she has been dedicated to public service for more than a quarter of a century. Starting with her experiences as a prison nurse in Belgium, she described giving voice to the migrant experience in Ireland, and the initiatives she has pioneered and worked on to provide support services to new arrivals.

After a short break for refreshments, Dr. David Hanna, UPF Northern Europe president, gave an “Overview of the UPF Vision.” Commending the Peace Road participants and speakers, he stressed the importance of the work of building the metaphoric bridges that UPF continues worldwide.

Dr. Hanna gave special mention to previous initiatives of the founders in bringing diverse communities and different faith representatives together in various peace initiatives. The Middle East Peace Initiative in Israel/Palestine and other peace projects were inspired and often led by the founders of UPF, the late Father Moon and continued today by Mother Moon. He also told a little of his Korean-born wife’s experience in Ireland and related how Father Moon’s desire was for unity between the two islands, which he stated in Dublin in 2005 when inaugurating UPF-Ireland in the Gresham Hotel.

The program concluded with remarks of gratitude from the emcee, Mr. Ó Cionnaith, especially to all those who had traveled on long journeys.

Pastor Ely Loew, UPF-Ireland president, then presented Ambassador for Peace certificates to Roos Demol, Angel Villegas, Sharon Ortega and Sylvain Mangoni Kezir.

Mr. Ó Cionnaith expressed the hope that an enjoyable day was had by all and that the GFA could have a transformative effect on the island, not just the traditional conflicting “factions” but also the “new arrivals” who give a different perspective and dynamic on how our history can be viewed, as well as hope for the future.

The Peace Road showcases interfaith cooperation, Mr. Ó Cionnaith said, and hopefully will inspire the opening of opportunities for empathy and development of new ideas and fulfillment of potential, as we move forward to tackle the challenges of social inclusion, housing, healthcare and other important issues … united in heart first and foremost, regardless of divisive constitutional questions of sovereignty.


Video recordings:

(Photos by Tinko Tinev)

By Ursula McLackland, Secretary General, UPF-Asia-Pacific
Thursday, September 21, 2023


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