The Passionist community in Holy Cross have been present in this community since 1869. The history of the Ardoyne community has been scarred by many years of conflict, and the Passionist community have consistently been a source of hope and consolation to the people of this community. Following the Provincial Chapter in June 2016 the Passionist Congregation highlighted their commitment to the ongoing work of peace building by appointing Fr Gary Donegan CP to the full-time work of peace and reconciliation. Alongside their previous commitment to the building of the refurbished Houben Centre as a centre dedicated to the work of peace and reconciliation integrated into a parish facility, this appointment was a further embedding of peace and reconciliation as a key component of the Passionist response to 50 years of conflict in the parish of Holy Cross, Ardoyne.
The Passionist Peace and Reconciliation Office was initially set up in the Houben Centre to promote this work, but this office was relocated to the premises of Daneo Services following the Provincial Chapter in 2016.
Fr. Gary is supported in this work by Brian McKee, a former member of the Passionist School Retreat and Parish Mission Team and a man who grew up within the Ardoyne community during the height of the conflict. Brian is a qualified teacher of Religious Studies, former diocesan director of youth ministry and highly experienced in the work of peace and reconciliation.
The Passionist Peace and Reconciliation Office – Being Passionist in a community emerging from conflict
In the Opening Address to the 47th General Chapter: “Renewing our mission – Gratitude, Prophecy and Hope”, Luke Monaghan CP reflected upon the parable of the Treasure Hidden in the field as the orientation for the work of the Chapter.
In his address Luke addressed a series of challenges that he believes faces Passionists today as we strive to remain faithful to our charism of keeping alive the memory of the Passion as a source of hope. The first challenge he addressed was “New wine needs new wineskins.” Referencing the parable, Luke stated:
“To my mind it is a powerful reminder that sometimes, as much as we value our traditions, you must let new initiatives and ventures be tried without stifling them by forcing them to do what we have always done, in ways that we have always done them, thereby unwittingly compromising them…There is a clear invitation to let the new wine be what it is without forcing it to become what it is not and can never be.”
“Are we open to being challenged…by our modern world, the challenges of this moment…entering deeply into its joys and sorrows, its concerns and challenges, or will we retreat into what we know and are familiar with, not seeing the opportunity to go deeper?”
Holy Cross, Ardoyne is a parish where the crucified is no stranger and where the people are familiar with grief. (Is.53:3) As Const 3.3 reminds us:
“We are aware that the Passion of Christ continues in this world until He comes in glory; therefore, we share in the joys and sorrows of our contemporaries as we journey through life toward our Father. We wish to share in the distress of all, especially those who are poor and neglected; we seek to offer them comfort and to relieve the burden of their sorrow. The power of the Cross, which is the wisdom of god, gives us strength to discern the causes of human suffering.”
The parish of Holy Cross, Ardoyne has suffered more deaths than any other community in the north of Ireland over the course of the conflict in our community. In this parish, 99 people lost their lives and almost 400 were incarcerated from a population that averaged 6000-7000 people. Trauma and suffering was inflicted upon this community, and people from this community also inflicted trauma and conflict upon others. As Passionists living in this parish and in this community that has endured over 50 years of conflict with the associated trauma, how can we not open ourselves to the vulnerability of sharing in the passion story of this community and give it meaning, by sharing not only the passion story of the Risen Lord, but also the passion story as experienced by us as Passionists:
“If the message of the Cross has not first penetrated our own lives, we ought not presume to proclaim it to others.” (Const 9)
The Passionist Peace and Reconciliation Office is a concrete manifestation of the optimism expressed in Luke’s Opening Address. At the heart of our charism is the call to keep alive the memory of the Passion.
Const 6: “We bind ourselves to keep alive the memory of the Passion. By word and deed, we strive to foster awareness of its meaning and value for each person and for the life of the world.”
Const 2: “to preach the gospel of the Passion by our life and apostolate.”
The Passionist Peace and Reconciliation Office is committed to the charism we embraced on the day of our Profession. We are committed to keeping that charism alive in a way that is meaningful and relevant to a community that has been wounded and remains sensitive to the pain of those wounds. We are privileged and thankful to the wider Passionist family for facilitating this work.
Given the recent election it is even more crucial to maintain and develop relationships across the political divide in the United States, as well as maintaining existing relationships at home.
Fr. Gary with Speaker Pelosi at Capitol Hill, after being invited to give Blessing at the Speaker's Lunch, St. Patrick's Day, 2019
Brian greets Sen John Cornyn, part of a delegation of 20 US Senators who visited the Houben Centre to hear of the work of peace building.
Former White House Chief of Staff and then Special Envoy to N. Ireland, Mick Mulvaney visits the Houben Centre.
The Peace Office facilitated a visit to the Houben Centre by Minister of Health Robin Swann MLA and Chief Medical Officer, Micheal McBride to hear from families affected by suicide in North Belfast.
Working in partnership with the North Belfast Food Bank and Ardoyne Kickhams during the Covid-19 pandemic.
Building a shared community where diversity is cherished and where conflict is resolved peacefully through building mutual respect and understanding
The Passionist Peace and Reconciliation Office is committed to:
deepening reconciliation in our divided community
developing opportunities for dialogue between people from diverse communities
creating spaces for the healing of the hurt and pain of both individuals and communities
working in partnership with a diverse range of individuals and bodies towards the common goal of peace and reconciliation
addressing the legacy of conflict within communities and individuals most affected by the trauma of such conflict
supporting young people and youth leaders in creating a shared future that is built upon a respect for diversity and the cherishing of individual beliefs
We are committed to treating people from diverse communities with equal dignity and respect.
Our word is our bond, we will vigorously protect the trust that people place in us.
We believe that peace can only be built when the voice and the experience of all those affected by conflict is heard and respected.
We are especially committed to providing spaces where difficult conversations are held between people from diverse backgrounds and ideologies.
Our work is rooted in a belief in the gospel message and in the Passionist charism of keeping alive the memory of Christ’s Passion as a source of hope and healing.
This is matched by our firm belief in;
the goodness of each person
the very diversity that separated us can become a source of our healing
The development of the Houben Centre as a place of healing and reconciliation
Reduction of tension in the community in relation to parading
Addressing legacy issues in the local community
Developing a productive partnership between the Peace Office, the Houben Centre and Tobar Mhuire Retreat Centre
Ex-combatants support for the Peace Process
Addressing the threat from dissident groupings
Cross-community engagement of young people