Grassroots faith leaders navigate a Northern Ireland in flux

by | Apr 4, 2023 | Religion

BELFAST, Northern Ireland (AP) — Teenagers from Catholic and Protestant youth groups lit candles on a Belfast street in memory of those who perished in the Holocaust, then listened solemnly to a warning about the dangers of Northern Ireland’s own infamous religious bigotries.“We all know what prejudice is,” said Stephen Hughes, leader in charge of St. Peter’s Immaculata Youth Centre, his voice robustly carrying over the twilight rush-hour traffic. “We were encouraged to hate each other because they’re Protestant or they’re Catholic.”
The teens were too young, he noted, to remember “the Troubles” — three decades of sectarian violence that claimed more than 3,600 lives in the late 20th century and left countless more wounded and bereaved.
The violence largely ended 25 years ago this month with the signing of the Good Friday Agreement, which laid out a political process for resolving Northern Ireland’s future.
But that political process has been turbulent, skirmishes have periodically resurfaced, and Catholic and Protestants remain segregated in many ways.
Moreover, Catholics now outnumber Protestants in a land historically defined by its pro-British Protestant majority. But neither of them are in church as often as they used to be, those who profess no religion are growing, and Catholics have mixed views about uniting with Ireland …

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