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Belfast Agreement in focus at Focolare weekend

By Susan Gately - 06 April, 2018

BBC journalist, Brian Rowan will address annual all-Ireland weekend in Belfast.

Stranmillis College, Belfast

For the first time in its more than forty years in Ireland, the Focolare movement will be holding its all-Ireland annual gathering in Belfast this weekend.

“It is a real thrill to have it in Befast for the first time,” Irene Jovaras told CatholicIreland. “It is a significant moment with all the existing tensions – uncertainty about Brexit, not having a government, so to have over 100 visitors coming from the Republic,  getting to know Belfast and people from Belfast is something I’m delighted about.”

The aim of Focolare is to contribute with others towards building a more united world, drawing inspiration from Jesus’ prayer, “May they all be one” (Jn 17.21). The event in Stranmillis College in the heart of Belfast, brings together Christians from several denominations and has as its theme: ‘Building Community Together’.

“We work to bring about unity through dialogue,” Ms Jovaras explained. “But there is not just one way to bring about dialogue. Someone said to me once: ‘It’s movements like yours that make friendships with people that will bring about unity’. So I think it‘s about establishing relationships, getting to know one another, whether that’s someone from another movement, group or denomination. At the end of the day you discover you are enriched by these encounters and ironically, you are more yourself!”

Tomorrow (Saturday 7th April), will be an Open Day reflecting on how people can contribute to strengthening a culture of trust and peace in their local communities, institutions and families. Brian Rowan, journalist, broadcaster and author of several books including Unfinished Peace, will give the keynote address which comes just days before the 20th anniversary of the Good Friday agreement.

“Brian Rowan, a BBC journalist who covered the situation here 20 years ago, will share with of us some of his reflections,” said Ms Jovaras. “I’ve heard Belfast described as the ‘Wounded and Wonderful city’ and that’s been my experience. But also in getting to know a place in its different layers, at times we have to face the wounds that are there, and the scars, that we go beyond for a new generation, to pass on hope.”

Tomorrow afternoon, after a reflection on the role of suffering in developing true dialogue, examples of initiatives will be presented such as the 4 Corners Festival in Belfast. Fr. Martin Magill, Catholic parish priest of St. John’s Parish in Falls Road, and Rev. Anne Toland of Newtownbreda Presbyterian Church, will be among the contributors. Bishop of Raphoe, Alan McGuckian SJ, will be the chief celebrant at a vigil Mass on Saturday evening.

On Sunday, local Methodist, Presbyterian, and Church of Ireland churches, have invited participants to take part in their services so that they may experience worship in a different Christian setting. “I think it is an opportunity to learn,” commented Irene Jovaras. “The work that goes across denominations, ecumenical dialogue, asks us to get to know one another. And I think the best way to get to know someone is to go and visit them in their home.“

Her hope for the weekend in Stranmillis College is that it will be “encouragement and a springboard for initiatives when people go back home, in their own local areas – to step out.”

Maybe they’re already involved in a community project, but to go out and enlarge the circle, she added. “Wherever we’re coming from I hope people will go, feeling encouraged, knowing that they are not on their own in seeking to fulfil that dream to build a united world. At times we can become apathetic or indifferent. We need to be re-energised to keep believing in that dream and according to our possibilities to see what we can we do.”

The open day tomorrow at Stranmillis College Belfast, begins at 10.00am.

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