On Faith: A bridge to peace

September 30, 2011|By Wilbur Davis

Irish Catholics call the city Derry. Irish Protestants call it Londonderry, its legal name, for it is in Northern Ireland, not the Republic of Ireland.

The River Foyle divides the city, with Protestants living largely on the east bank, and Catholics on the west.

For so many years, random and targeted killings were commonplace, Catholics and Protestants killing each other. The nearby political border was a heavily fortified military zone until the conclusion of a lengthy peace process that stretched from the historic Good Friday Agreement of 1998 to the signing of the definitive accord of 2007 that closed the fear-saturated period euphemistically known as "the troubles."

Today, the political border remains, though scarcely discernible. Physical barriers and checkpoints have been removed and there remain only subtle indications that one is crossing a border, such as a modest sign advising motorists to adjust from miles to kilometers.


Most striking as a visible expression of the grand leap toward reconciliation that has occurred is the central city's Peace Bridge, as light and lovely as a slim ballerina lofted into the air between two strong facing dancers.

I visited that bridge in August. I walked across it with a priest, a former pastor at my church in Newport Beach. During the troubles, his brother had taken three bullets in the neck but survived.

This creatively new construction, inaugurated in June this year, stretches across the Foyle, calling long-opposed persons on each bank to cross over and engage historic neighbors in a fresh way.

The Peace Bridge is as much poetry as it is engineering. Designed for pedestrians only, it requires one to leave behind the isolating cocoon of a vehicle and instead to saunter across. Rather than joining two shores in expected straight-line efficiency, the bridge lazily undulates as if to say "slow down, take your time as we meet in this new space between our divided shores."

The two rising towers securing the suspension cables playfully tilt inward, one to the left, the other to the right, metaphorically inviting all to look upward to both left and right and then outward with an expansive vision.

St. Bernard of Clairvaux, in the 12th century, penned these words: "The name of Jesus is honey in our mouths; it is melody in our ears; it is jubilation in our hearts."

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