Mitchell Institute Hosts ‘Talking it Over’ at the 4 Corners Festival
The Senator George J Mitchell Institute for Global Peace, Security and Justice hosted a lunchtime discussion for local seminarians and young clergy, as well as students on its MA in Conflict Transformation and Social Justice, on Monday 4 February.
Participants gathered to share their thoughts on an event they had all attended the previous evening at Skainos, ‘Compassion, Radical Kinship and Forgiveness,’ featuring Fr Greg Boyle SJ as keynote speaker.
Both events were part of the annual 4 Corners Festival, an ecumenical Christian initiative, and hosted by Institute Fellow Dr Gladys Ganiel, who is on the Festival organising committee. The theme of this year’s festival is ‘Scandalous Forgiveness.’
Twenty men and women from a variety of denominations discussed what they had learned and the implications for their ministries, careers and public theology in Northern Ireland. International students from the Mitchell Institute were able to share from the experiences of their home countries. The event enabled participants to meet with their counterparts in an informal setting, in hopes of encouraging new friendships and collaborations.
There was much to digest from the evening before. Boyle has worked for more than three decades with men and women who have been caught up in gang warfare in Los Angeles. He is the founder of Homeboy Industries, the largest gang intervention, rehabilitation and re-entry programme in the world. Up to 15,000 former gang members enter the programme each year.
Boyle was accompanied by three former gang members who told their stories: Jose Arellano, Steve Avalos and Hector Verdugo.
Tim Mairs, Assistant Chief Constable of the Police Service of Northern Ireland, responded to the four men’s contributions. He reflected on how people in Northern Ireland could learn from their experiences and challenged the audience to see former enemies as brothers and sisters. Belfast singer-songwriter Dave Thompson performed three songs written especially for the occasion.
You can read a full account of the event here. (https://4cornersfestival.com/building-a-circle-of-compassion-and-a-community-of-tenderness-in-a-spirit-of-radical-kinship/)
During the lunchtime discussion, participants described themselves as inspired by Homeboy Industries. They expressed their appreciation for the opportunity to process what they had heard by discussing it with their peers. Others frankly acknowledged the difficult challenges that remain in Northern Ireland, including socio-economic class divisions, high suicide rates and continued paramilitary activity. One participant described the previous evening’s event as a ‘moment of conversion’ that had given him renewed hope.
The 4 Corners Festival continues through 10 February.
L-R Hector Verdugo and Jose Arellano ex gang members, Fr Gregory Boyle SJ, speaker Tim Mairs Assist Chief Constable of the PSNI and Steve Avalos ex gang member.
Photography credit: Bernie Brown.