An Anglican cleric is attempting to organise a mass prayer vigil at the Maze, inviting those affected by the Troubles to forgive those who have hurt them.
David Jardine, former chaplain of Crumlin Road jail and a canon of St Anne’s Cathedral, said he has earmarked September 17 for the gathering, held at the site of the largely demolished old prison.
He said that encouraging people to forgive perpetrators of paramilitary crime was “one of the things” they were trying to achieve.
Its purpose is to invite attendees to do four things: “Lay down their burdens from the past; to forgive; to say sorry; and to pray for the future of our country.”
He attributed the idea to a “lay reader from Lisburn [Anglican] cathedral”, adding that he had been asked to take on the task of arranging it.
The 73-year-old cleric – who is also a director of Divine Healing Ministries (a group founded in 1992 to “pray for the healing of individuals and of our land”) – said: “There’s been a lot of talk about dealing with the past. What has never been included in that discussion is, first of all, forgiveness – you never hear it mentioned.
“And secondly, God. And without both, there’ll never be a lasting peace in this place.”
He said controversies such as the long-running Twaddell Avenue loyalist demonstration – which has seen people encamped at an interface in Belfast in protest at the banning of certain Orange parades – are “running sores that’ll probably just keep coming up all the time because of the emotions that are really within people”.
He added: “But we are trusting that the 17th of September will be an opportunity for people to come and find God’s peace.”
He said the event will run from 9am to 6pm at the Maze site, which in recent years has been used to host the Balmoral Show.
The plan is for there to be a “huge cross” , and that prayers will be held in the space that is now used as the showjumping arena.
It will all be done in silence; there will be no service.
He hopes thousands of people will come. It could cost perhaps £20,000 to stage, he estimated.
It was put to him that the Maze site has some controversial links – having been proposed for a contentious and ultimately failed “peace centre” – to which he replied: “That’s where we felt God guided us to go to.”
He said they had considered Windsor Park and Casement Park, but that they each “belong” to one or other side of the community.
Kingspan Stadium, meanwhile, was “a bit middle class”.
By contrast, “the Maze doesn’t belong to anybody”.
It was also put to him that forgiveness can be a difficult process for many victims.
He responded by saying that he was looking directly at a roll of honour for the Northern Ireland Prison Service, and that he knew many of the names on it.
Asked if he had forgiven the republicans who carried out these killings, he said that he had.
“Initially I was very angry at what they had done,” he said.
“Because a number of these people were friends of mine and had helped me a great deal in the prison context. But ... I have forgiven them. I don’t have any anger against the IRA any longer.”