It was a misty start as participants arrived at Glencree last Monday morning the 5th of December to meet and hear the visiting archbishop in Jerusalem, His Grace the Most Revd. Dr. Suheil Dawani, who was in Ireland at the Invitation of our own archbishop of Dublin the Most Revd. Dr. Michael Jackson. Those in attendance included guests from Ireland, Northern Ireland and Britain. The event had been in the planning since early August when Archbishop Michael Jackson invited Will Devas and his team into Church House in Dublin to scope out what a day in Glencree could offer in terms of an experience of dialogue and peace-making over the past two decades. Initial discussion produced a number of ideas around how the day might be structured including the ambitious suggestion of a declaration calling for peace and respect towards the dignity of the human person across the Middle East.

Work began on framing the day around three themes, the first was to honour the presence of Archbishop Dawani and to demonstrate a deep sense of solidarity with him at this time. The second was to share some of the experiences that we have had in our own journey out of violence into a much better yet nonetheless imperfect place in Ireland. The third theme was to create a discussion around some of the language that we need to develop with sensitivity to our own and other communities as we struggle to create the conditions for an end to violence and the start of a reconciliation process between communities who remain in conflict. The final part of the day envisaged the signing of the Declaration by all of the Faith Leaders and Religious that would be presented to Archbishop Dawani with copies kept by Archbishop Jackson and Glencree.

The day itself saw guests and participants including His Excellency the Apostolic Nuncio to Ireland Archbishop Charles Browne, the Israeli Ambassador Ze’ev Boker and Ms Jilan Abdalmogid Chargé d’Affaires for the Mission of the State of Palestine. Also present was Rabbi Zalman Lent along with the leaders of the three main mosques in Dublin representing Sunni and Shia Islamic traditions. Dr Bill Mullally President of the Methodist Church in Ireland as well as Fr. Damien McNeice who is Master of Ceremonies for the Dublin Archdiocese was also present throughout the day. Other participants included Paul Manook from the Armenian Church in Ireland along with his colleague Mrs. Aida Lundon who are the key representatives here in Ireland.

The Glencree Chairperson Barbara Walshe opened the proceedings with a welcome to all of those who travelled and were present, and expressed the hope that the day might be of some value to the guests and would give some inspiration through the experiences that would be shared. She stressed that the success of Glencree had been its unwavering commitment to reaching understanding through dialogue and that the humanising experience of exchanging ideas with those who are opposed to and different from you created bonds that transcended the basis of often-mistrustful relationships.

The key session entitled “exploring parallel journeys out of violence into a brighter future” had a pivotal impact on the participants and brought home to everyone the destructive and corrosive impact that violence has on people, communities and generations who are exposed to it. The pain and impact of the violence expressed by each of the four contributors from Ireland, Northern Ireland and Britain acted, as CS Lewis once wrote, like “a megaphone to rouse a deafened world”. Each in turn followed with a description of how they had made their individual journeys forward, from the awful experience(s) that changed their lives forever.

In the afternoon, there was an open discussion that reflected on the experiences of those journeys and the milestones within them from the previous session. There were some very useful and thoughtful contributions around the role of faith leaders today and how they speak and use their voice to reach communities in a way that fosters a curiosity for understanding those who differ from us, and reconciling that which divides us. Archbishop Jackson asked us to be open to the possibility of the prophetic over-gesture in our efforts to reach out and to hear what might be on offer to us by way of a conversation.

The day closed with Glencree Chief Executive Will Devas thanking everyone for creating and participating in what had been a very special day. He said “it was a privilege to bring to Glencree political, religious and community representatives to talk and listen to each other about the challenges of building peace and to facilitate Irish Faith Leaders in making a joint declaration for peace and respect for the dignity of human life in the Middle East”. Following his remarks both Faith Leaders and Religious were invited to sign three copies of the declaration one copy of which was given to Archbishop Dawani to take home to Jerusalem. It was signed by 17 Representatives of the Abrahamic Faiths (Judaism, Christian, and Islam) from across the country. A crowning achievement following an extraordinary day.

Those that signed the declaration were:

The Most Revd. Archbishop Michael Jackson – Archbishop of Dublin, Church of Ireland

Fr. Timothy Bartlett – Secretary General for the World Meeting of Families

Dr. Susan Hood – Librarian and Archivist of the RCB Library

Mr Siraj Zaidi – Ahlul Bayt Islamic Centre of Ireland and Founder Member of Three Faiths Forum.

Revd. Gary Mason – Founder/Director Rethinking Conflict

Revd. Damien McNeice – Master of Ceremonies for Archbishop Diarmuid Martin

Sheikh Dr. Umar Al-Qadri – Ameer/Head Imam, Al-Mustafa Islamic Educational & Cultural Centre Ireland

Revd. Dr. William Olhausen – Rector, St. Matthias and Theological Advisor to the Archbishop of Dublin

Revd. Bill Mullally – President – Methodist Church in Ireland

Rabbi Zalman Lent – Communal Rabbi for Irish Jewish Community

Revd. John Parkin – Methodist, Ecumenical Accompaniment Programme in Palestine and Israel

Dr. Ali Al-Saleh – Imam, Ahlul Bayt Islamic Centre of Ireland

Dr. Paul Manook – Chairman, Parish Council Armenian Church in Ireland

Revd. Ken Rue – Chair, Diocesan Council for Mission – Church of Ireland

Rt. Revd. Dr. Alan Harper – Armagh Educational & Community Village Project

Revd. Desmond Sinnamon – Rt. Priest & Rector and Founder Member of Three Faiths Forum.

Monseigneur Dermot Lane – Mater Dei Institute and Balally Parish Priest

Joint declaration for peace and respect for the dignity of human life in the Middle East from Faith Leaders in Ireland

Irish Times Article: Irish faith leaders sign joint declaration calling for peace in the Middle East