Not far from the rolling green hills peppered with sheep that serve as an iconic trademark of Ireland, are cities rebuilding from the devastation of years of cross-community warfare.
A nation terrorized by events like the 1916 Easter Rising and Bloody Sunday still actively works on finding reconciliation and peace in order to rebuild trust among its people. A peace wall stands tall in Belfast as a reminder of a more violent time when a physical barrier wasn’t only preferred, it was necessary. Murals throughout town depict men with machine guns, honoring those who lost their lives by defending their side of the conflict. Some of those murals are now being painted over, in efforts to tell a different tale – one of culture and pride, instead of sorrow and pain.
Since 2008, Saint Ignatius and Walsh Jesuit high schools have partnered to deliver a unique service-learning program in Belfast, Northern Ireland. Since then, other Catholic schools have participated as well. In 2011, Saint Ignatius Theology teacher Jim Brennan ’85 and Dan Bizga ’95, Theology teacher from Walsh Jesuit, paired up to deliver a unique service-learning program in Belfast, Northern Ireland. The program includes a semester-long online course in Catholic Social Teaching, history, literature and politics as they relate to the Irish Peace Process, culminating with the trip to Belfast. With a rigorous schedule, students hear from key figures in Irish politics including former paramilitary members and even have an opportunity to meet and question current world leaders. Plans are underway to include a visit to Scotland in the summer 2018 trip.
“Peace without justice will always be fragile,” says Professor John Brewer of the George Mitchell Institute at Queen’s University Belfast.
The students in this program experience first-hand the reality of this statement as they dig deeper into the complex history of the Irish conflict.