Terror victims have welcomed a change of venue for a national reconciliation event originally planned for the Maze prison – in light of the “angst and hurt” the proposal had caused them.
Kenny Donaldson of Innocent Victims United (IVU) said a delegation of victims had met recently with the visionary for the event, Rev David Jardine of Divine Healing Ministries, where they outlined how “hurtful” the choice of venue was, due to its strong associations with IRA hunger strikes.
In July Rev Jardine unveiled the planned event for the Maze Prison site for September 17. He had issued an open invitation to people to come to “forgive those who have hurt you, say sorry where you may have hurt others and make a commitment to help build a better future for our land”.
Initially he had strongly defended the venue from criticism, saying that no other had appeared so suitable to everyone. But on Wednesday he confirmed that he was changing the location in light of victims’ concerns.
Mr Donaldson said: “We welcome the confirmation that the prayer vigil planned for the Maze/Long Kesh/Balmoral Park site is to be moved to St Anne’s Cathedral, Belfast. This follows a number of discussions between the event organisers and representatives from Innocent Victims United in recent weeks.
“The church has shown humility in reaching this decision, a great deal of angst and hurt was caused to victims through the initial proposal and greater still would be the impact were the event to have gone ahead as planned.
“In our frank discussions with Bro Jardine and colleagues we resolved that we are wanting the same thing for victims – to assist victims to find an inner peace, to get to a point of living as opposed to in many cases, merely existing. The power of prayer can be an enabler in this journey.”
Mr Donaldson added: “The former Maze Prison is not akin to Robben Island [in South Africa], it is better likened to Spandau Prison which was flattened upon the death of Adolph Hitler’s right hand man Rudolph Heiss.
“Why was it flattened? Because it was a prison which the Germans understood had the strong likelihood of becoming a neo-Nazi shrine, it was deemed to be too painful for victims of the Holocaust to bear.”
He said the same approach should be taken in respect of Northern Ireland: “Terrorism glorification and idolatry should cease to be fed and explained away as people simply expressing their opinion or narrative – that’s a gross manipulation of the truth and will have serious implications for future generations if not halted.”
But he added that IVU offers its “thoughts and prayers” for Bro Jardine and his colleagues for their work.
“This decision to move the prayer vigil event is an instance where victims have been placed at the centre of a decision-making process, however belatedly. That is to be welcomed and must now signal a different approach from churches and other institutions.”
Rev Jardine said the reason for the change of venue is that “representatives of Divine Healing Ministries engaged closely with many people who had suffered, particularly victims’ groups”.
He added: “They found that if they had continued with Balmoral Park as the venue that would have caused great hurt and upset. Divine Healing Ministries is a healing ministry. This day was called to help people find God’s peace. So we could not in conscience continue along a path that might add to some peoples’ suffering.
“Although the venue has changed the format of the day will be the same, and it is for everyone. Whoever people are, wherever they come from, they will be welcome in St Anne’s Cathedral on Saturday, September 17. All the prayer will be in silence, “to help people in the silence to have an encounter with God, and to find His peace”.
•The ‘Day Of Prayer For Our Land’ in St Anne’s Cathedral, Belfast will be on Saturday, September 17 from 9am-6pm.