4 Corners knits city together with inspiring programme

The 4 Corners Festival Belfast takes place from January 30th to February 6th under the theme “Common Ground Common Good”.

A bird’s eye view of Belfast, with all of the faith traditions marked, would provide a rich seam of community running across the city, corner to corner. I have visited most churches for worship, from gospel halls to monasteries and churches to meeting houses. At the end of the experience I am no longer the same person as I was at the beginning.

In Belfast we have grown used to feeling safe in some areas and threatened by real violence in others. There are visible and invisible lines that we encounter every day. The glider made us all slide through the city on a west-waste axis, and when the new north-south route is finally agreed, this will move people more (possibly even without a mask).

Already in the 10th year the 4 Corners Festival begins in St. Anna’s Cathedral and ends in St. Peter. It “seeks to inspire people from all over the city, to transform them for the peace and wellbeing of all, in order to lure people from their own ‘corners’ of the city to new places where they will encounter new perspectives, new ideas and new ones Friends.”

Last year these new perspectives were all online. This year it’s currently a hybrid, but as with anything, it’s a case to review closer to the time. I have met some people who have an increased feeling of fear of going out regardless of the precautions taken. If that is you, take comfort in the fact that the walks on offer are all outdoors.

There are still some tickets available to see Archbishop of Canterbury Justin Welby at St. Peter’s Cathedral with jazz singer Dana Masters. Along with husband Andy, Dana was key to building the Lagan Valley Vineyard Church. But there are still plenty of live stream tickets available. Justin Welby has an understanding of our current and past status in the region and I have found that he is usually right with his comments. I just wish that the peace work of Coventry Cathedral, that he spent his first 15 years in the diocese and became canon in 2002, will become more connected to this region and go beyond its current scope. We can learn a lot from their mode of reconciliation.

For many, the most important event is “Knitting 4 Corners Together” at Fitzroy Presbyterian in Botanic. Many will not know how many people in the city belong to knitting groups or have learned the joy of knitting or crocheting as a deep meditation.

During the lockdown, the skill has grown in popularity and many faith communities share the fellowship while knitting for good causes, from babies in newborn units to the homeless and sailors on the high seas. In the third year, the event will knit or crochet squares that will be made into blankets as gifts for individuals, hostels and homes across town. It is also a great opportunity to visit a large renovated Presbyterian church in the heart of the botanical area (during the renovation, the Fitzroy Congregation built a school for a sister congregation in Uganda). Beginners welcome; Email Janice for more details.

Is there also an introduction to the concept of nonviolence? For this event, Fr. John Dear from the United States will speak to youth workers. He is said to have been arrested more times than is humanly decent! As a Catholic priest, he used to work for the Pace e Bene Nonviolence Service. We are all quite familiar with violence, perhaps less so than non-violence. I first came across this while working with Suellen Semekoski in Chicago, where she used art and nonviolence to stop a march in which veterans tossed their medals back to NATO and turned into violence.

I had never experienced anything like it before and when I got home I gave a lecture in the féile about which someone in the audience got up and asked if I thought it would be better to just let the rioters scream so silently. Since then, I’ve mostly got it to be stared at blankly. Fr John Dear will inspire anyone interested in the field of nonviolence.

Pace e Bene, where Fr. John Dear once served, was founded by a Catholic priest, but has not become a denominational member since. With spirituality at their center, they have multiple strands of work around the world and the pandemic has shifted their training online to make it more accessible. With so many people cynical about peace work, it was a breath of fresh air to be the first Belfast people to connect with amazing people working on the concept in their own communities around the world, from migrants to the Mexican Limit up to homeless in Seattle. They provide real support, learning, and inspiration to show how we all need to play a role in moving our communities further towards non-violence, including non-violence against yourself.

Other events include a conversation between pianist Ruth McGinley and Rev Steve Stockman at the Grand Opera House. Carl Frampton will be in the peaceful setting of Clonard Monastery to share his sincere desire to be an ambassador for the common good and the common good. Susan McKay also gets a glimpse, as does Austen Ivereigh, the Pope’s biographer. There is a wonderful Peaceplayers sporting event at the Queens PGC where young people ages 11-14 can play GAA, soccer, and rugby. The drama element will be seen at the Titanic Hotel with Sam Thompson’s ‘Over the Bridge’, which was originally banned by the unionized trustees of the Ulster Group Theater. It has been seen by over 80,000 people.

Hidden in night prayer over the eight nights of the festival, Jim Deeds and Mc Kayla Barbour will speak to an artist about their process and how art can reflect the common good. One night it will be me

There is a loophole in the 4 corners schedule: the role of women in the churches and what they do in the 4 corners of the city. This is an area I get asked about a lot, especially by people outside of the mainstream church. The festival runs from January 30th to February 6th and you don’t have to have a belief to attend.

The Out to Lunch festival that was held last week has been postponed to a limited livestream-only event.

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