On Faith: A bridge to peace

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."

To the shame of us who associate the name of Jesus with honey, melody and jubilation, there is so much violence that is tolerated, even embraced, by Christians who surgically separate faith from actions. The world longs for many more peace bridges that leap across dividing chasms.

Quoting Scripture in self-justification is dishonest; whereas internalizing the Word and being transformed by it is life-giving. It troubles us Christians that World War II was launched largely by persons claiming the name of Jesus.

Catholics are humiliated in acknowledging that in tiny Rwanda, a largely Roman Catholic country, our co-religionists butchered an estimated hundreds of thousands of their neighbors in three months. And today in our United States, so many of us Christians, claiming the banner of being protectors of life, endorse the ultimate anti-life practice of capital punishment.

I try to imagine Jesus participating in an execution, but my spirit wretches.

"Peter, put back your sword. Those who use the sword are sooner or later destroyed by it."

Christians, Jews and Muslims share the same Hebrew Scriptures, which nourished the faith, vision and practice of Jesus. Disturbing it is to go to Bethlehem, the city of David and Jesus, the meeting place between Old and New Testaments, where the angelic choirs sang of peace and joy, there to be confronted by a towering separation wall of prison-like design with guard towers, that sows bitterness in the human heart.

"And Jesus wept."

Will we, in faith, risk replacing our multiplied walls with bridges? Rumi, the 13th century Persian mystic, proposed this: "Out beyond the ideas of right and wrong there is a field. I'll meet you there."

Bridges could bring us to that field.

WILBUR DAVIS is the monsignor at Our Lady Queen of Angels Church in Newport Beach.

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