In all my time in Belfast as a theological student the only time I can remember being moved, truly moved to pray was at the Redemptorist monastery of Clonard. After some weeks of experiencing the work of the Irish School of Ecumenics in the company of other students – a number of whom openly showed their contempt for “the other side” – I glibly commented in my essay describing our time that the best thing I got out of Belfast was the Dublin Road. At Clonard we spoke with an eighty something year old priest who we knew only as Father Reid; a man who had years of experience of Belfast, its people (Protestant and Catholic), and the Troubles. In hindsight, this appraisal of the man may be one of the greatest underestimations of which I have ever been guilty. In a long private conversation in the gardens of the monastery, without knowing it then, I was speaking with one of the greatest fathers of peace on the island of Ireland. Had I known what I later came to know of this quiet saint then I would have asked him to explain peace to me, and I would have memorised and inwardly digested each of his words. All that I have come to know of peace is that it is never passive, and it never happens by accident.
Resignation to the conditions of violence or, at least, the absence of peace forever closes off the possibility of walking the pacific path with the dismissive “Religion is the cause of all wars,” and yet this could not possibly be further from the truth. Religion has never been and nor can it ever be the cause of violence or war. Religion, in all of its forms, is an expression of faith in and our ideas of the divine and transcendent. People cause wars and people fight and are killed in wars, and none of these have been fought out over religious ideas. Violence between people is the result of our frequent failure to communicate, our lust for more power, and a host of other things. Religion, as a signifier of difference, all too often becomes a means of identifying the various sides in a conflict. Faith, as a trust in a singular and ultimately unknowable reality, in fact, offers an antidote to violence and conflict. It provides a way for our frustrations and hopes to be mediated, albeit through separate traditions, by the reality of love and peace to which we all strive. Peace is a holy thing, and our many faiths remind us of this holiness. Finding the path to peace happens on the way to holiness.