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Jesuits cross the sectarian divide

As part of the interprovincial collaboration project, four Jesuits experienced some of the fruits of peace-work in Belfast over the years. Alan McGuckian, who lives in Belfast, was accompanied by Nikolaas Sintobin, of the Flemish Province, and two British Jesuits, Tim Byron and Henry Longbottom. All four of them threw themselves into pastoral work in two parishes in north Belfast, leading Ignatian missions, guided prayer and spiritual direction to parishioners.

Particularly noteworthy is the warm welcome which Alan and Nikolaas received at the Church of the Good Shepherd, which is a united Anglican-Methodist church in Monkstown, a staunchly Loyalist area. About a dozen people in this parish did a week of guided prayer in the Ignatian tradition. Both Jesuits were deeply moved by this experience.

Nikolaas, who hails from Amsterdam, found this pastoral work “most interesting and exciting”. He noted that even though some aggressive murals and graffiti remain on the walls in the Monkstown area, many had been changed to reflect more peaceful, optimistic messages. There are clear efforts to make the neighbourhood more welcoming. Nikolaas observed that, as in many places which have a history of similar conflict, the basic problems appear to relate to injustice and poverty.

Tim and Henry’s work was mainly in the Sacred Heart Catholic parish, also in north Belfast. They gave a mission in honour of St Ignatius and they also worked with prayer guides of the Down and Connor diocese in the parish, offering a week of guided prayer. According to Tim, the welcome “has been quite beautiful”. Henry also noted the friendliness of the welcome, and he took particular pleasure from the experience of sharing Ignatian spirituality with people who wanted to receive it.

All of these Jesuits greatly appreciated the opportunity to collaborate with Jesuits that they hadn’t known well before. There were differences between them, Nikolaas noted, but there was much more that united them – the same formation, the same spirituality, and a similar way of looking at things. Nikolaas was struck in particular by their common desire to place themselves at the service of the Church in whichever Province they were working.