A group of people from the four Kirkby churches met at John Lennon Airport on 7th September 2009 to travel to Corrymeela Community in Northern Ireland for the Annual Parish Retreat. For many this was their first flight so there was much excitement as the plane soared into the air over the Mersey and climbed to 23,000 feet for the short flight to Belfast. Arriving at Corrymeela we were quite overcome by the stunning scenery and the genuine warmth of our welcome – as soon as we piled out of the mini bus we were greeted with ‘you are so welcome’ and taken in for the first of what proved to be many cups of tea.
After we had unpacked we gathered in one of the many comfortable lounges and over a cup of tea met Padraig, Theresa and Fergal who were to lead and care for us on our journey of discovery about why Northern Ireland needs centres like Corrymeela. Over the next few days we came to understand that Northern Ireland is a country where Catholics and Protestants live physically close to one another but are separated by the hurts created by the historical and ongoing political, religious and cultural conflicts which have arisen between these two branches Christianity. Founded in 1965 Corrymeela is an ecumenical Christian community which aims to provide a safe place within which to explore the possibilities for healing, reconciliation and peace between the Catholic and Protestant Communities. The most healing place on the site is, undoubtedly the Croi. “Croi” is the Gaelic word for “heart” and the building resembles the shape of a human heart with different chambers flowing into each other. We met in this peaceful place daily at 9.30 am and at 9 pm for short periods of worship, music, fellowship and laughter, and always left it feeling nourished and spiritually refreshed. The peace of the ‘croi’ enveloped and embraced us when we returned from a challenging day in Belfast where we had seen the raw wounds of the ‘peace walls’ and the wall paintings – physical evidence of the hurts of this city which is only 30 minutes by air from our own. Lest this give an impression of total gloom one should mention that in Belfast we also visited the Clonard Reconciliation Project and were warmed and impressed by the unity pilgrims led by Father Gerry and Rev. Sam.
Just reading this it may seem that Corrymeela is worthy but rather dull but this is far from the case. We enjoyed a week of fun, laughter, fabulous meals, superb sceney and, of course, many many cups of tea! We enjoyed trips to Giant’s Causeway, and Porrush and we had a great Irish evening in the local pub in Ballycastle. We experienced the warmth of the Irish people and the joy of seeing and hearing how Corrymeela is slowly but surely breaking down the divisions and replacing them with trust and hopefully friendship. None of us wanted to leave Ireland or Corrymeela and the journey back to the airport was full of discussion about which part of Ireland we should visit on the next Parish pilgrimage! Our hopes can be summed up in the Irish prayer :
May the road rise to meet us, may the wind be always at our back, may the sunshine upon our faces, the rain fall soft upon our fields and until we meet again, may God hold us in the palm of his hand. Amen.