‘Let light in’: musical event celebrates peace and difference

Reconciliation by Josefina de Vasconcellos. Copy at Stormont Estate, Belfast, Northern Ireland. https://www.flickr.com/photos/infomatique/46977467665/ © William MURPHY CC BY-SA

‘Let light in’: musical event celebrates peace and difference
21 September 2023

To mark the United Nations International Day of Peace, people gathered at St Anne’s Cathedral in Belfast for A Celebration of Difference. The programme featured musical artists and speakers from different backgrounds for the purpose of celebrating peace. It was arranged by Corrymeela, The Northern Ireland Inter-Faith Forum, and Beyond Skin

As guests entered the cathedral, they were welcomed with music performed by cellist and Corrymeela volunteer Paul Lee. After an opening address from Programme Manager for Public Theology with Corrymeela Jonny Clark, the evening’s emcee Jude Hill-Mitchell, media manager for Save the Children, spoke to the audience about the need for difficult conversations to make way for peace. “Peace is actually painful,” she reflected, and cited the need for occasions such as this to “let light in”.

Hill-Mitchell then welcomed singer-songwriter Tommy Sands to the stage. The artist led the crowd in singing while sharing heartfelt and often humorous stories of working towards peace. Sands reminded the audience that peace is not an event, but a process. 

Following Sands, Iranian musician Behnam Ghazanfairpour, presently seeking sanctuary in Northern Ireland, played the santoor, a stringed folk instrument believed to have originated in Persia. Next, Yuliia and Kateryna, sisters from Ukraine now living in Dungiven, sang a song in their native tongue while adorned in flower crowns. 

Hill-Mitchell then returned to the stage to interview Anne Morgan and Jude Whyte. Morgan, campaigner for Families of the Disappeared, shared the story of her brother Seamus Ruddy, one of the ‘disappeared’ during the Troubles. She explained the difficulty of not knowing the location of her brother’s body for 32 years until it was eventually found and returned. Morgan reported, “Peace is a hard road.” 

Lecturer and victims campaigner Jude Whyte recalled his experience growing up in Belfast during the Troubles and the bomb that took his mother’s life. He discussed the work that remains to be done for peace in Northern Ireland, noting that is not enough to stop the violence. Whyte, who considers himself a “recovering bigot”, reported on the importance of being “anti-sectarian”.

Imam and President at the Iqraa Mosque Sheikh Jamal Iweida joined Hill-Mitchell for a conversation about hope and peace. Recently, Swastika flags were found outside the Iqraa Mosque, an incident being investigated as a racist hate crime. Despite this, Iweida explained that he understood these actions do not represent everyone locally and affirmed the community support his congregation has received. “Peace cannot be established without justice,” the imam declared. 

After the discussion, harpist and singer Bróna McVittie played two songs with Irish poetic roots. The music was followed by a reading of Toward a True Kinship of Faiths by the Dalai Lama, from Vicky Heslop, a practising Tibetan Buddhist. The reading explored themes of empathy, finding commonality among humans, bridging across differences, and a warning against violence. 

Finally, Norman Richardson, member of the Corrymeela Community, led guests in a time of quiet reflection on peace. He concluded the reflection with the adage, “It is in the shelter of each other that the people live.” Sands was invited to the stage once again to end the evening with two more songs before Clark officially closed the event. 

Filling the cavernous cathedral with atmospheric melodies and thoughtful conversation, A Celebration of Difference offered a space for reflection, respite, and encouragement for those involved in the often difficult work of peace from many walks of life. As the lyrics of Sands’s song says, “Let your heart have no fear, for there’s no strangers here, just friends that you never knew.” 

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