A Catholic bishop has told how he and a fellow clergyman walked around the streets of Londonderry meeting Apprentice Boys on Lundy Day, earlier this month.
Bishop of Derry, Donal McKeown, said he has “walked out to meet and greet marchers twice” since his installation in the Maiden City in April last year.
“A priest in the city Father Michael Canny and myself simply walked up around the Diamond when the bands were coming through and we stopped and talked to people,” he said.
“There was no tension or stress or anything at all. It was lovely.
“I felt no hostility that day. In December afterwards we met a senior PSNI officer and sat in one of the hotels looking out on the street and had a coffee together. That might not be possible elsewhere but it certainly is here.”
The Co Antrim-born senior cleric said “that is what the atmosphere is like in the city”.
“We have had a lot of discussions in the city over the years which has made all of these things possible,” he added.
“There have been lots of conversations between people and people are able to meet and leave space for one another so the conversations have clearly worked.
“I claim no credit for it,” he added.
“I give the credit to the people who have gone along before me, people working quietly in the background.”
Bishop McKeown said in Londonderry “churches have been working together for a long time”.
“Bishop Edward Daly (former Catholic Bishop of Derry) and Dr James Mehaffey (former Church of Ireland Bishop of Derry and Raphoe) got Freedom of the City of Derry before the move to the new council and the church leaders meet here once a month for a working breakfast. In fact we are working on a project for 2016 for the centenary of 1916. There is also a joint churches foodbank in the city.”
Meanwhile, Bishop McKeown on Sunday began the Catholic Church’s Year of Mercy by attending a service in the nearby Protestant church.
Dr McKeown joined the congregation in the Church of Ireland’s Christ Church at 11am for the start of what was believed to be a unique ceremony culminating in the opening of the Holy Door at nearby St Eugene’s Cathedral.
Bishop McKeown said that Pope Francis’s declaration that the next 12 months should be a year of mercy was part of the pontiff’s desire to reach out to people in pain and distress.