HUNDREDS of people from both sides of the west Belfast divide streamed into a church straddling the peace line at the weekend to hear a former Boyzone singer speak about his faith.
Shane Lynch was speaking at the New Life City Church on the Shankill Road on Sunday evening.
Yesterday, Pastor Jack McKee issued a public note of thanks to Justice Minister David Ford for allowing the gates in the peace wall to remain open until 9.30pm to enable people from both sides of the community divide to attend.
“We had a truly amazing evening with up to a total of 500 people from both sides of the divide and from across Northern Ireland attending,” said Mr McKee.
“There were no incidents whatsoever, and we, as a church and as a community outreach, showed once again that it really is possible for people to come together in mutual respect, regardless of their religious or political or ethnic background, and to do so right at the dividing line.”
The gates are normally open until 7pm but on Sunday they close at 3pm, Mr McKee said, speaking from his church on Northumberland Street.
“We had people come from Andersonstown, Ballymurphy, the Greater Shankill, Bangor, Carrick and Ballymena to hear him speak.
“Shane had a Catholic upbringing in Dublin but everyone knew they were coming to hear him talk about the reality of faith in his life. He has had the fame, money, fast cars, drugs and women and yet he was totally messed and had something missing up until he made a commitment to Christ in 2003.
“It doesn’t matter what the religion or politics are of the people listening to him – they can sense the reality of what he is saying.”
Half of Mr McKee’s church is located on one side of the peace line and half on the other, but there is not yet any entrance on the nationalist side. However, he says that young people regularly climb over the wall to attend church services when the gate is not open.
On Friday nights, youths from both sides of the community play football at the church until after midnight.
Mr McKee said he is optimistic about the peace walls coming down earlier than the authorities hope.