Derry honour for clerics who risked lives for peace
Bishop Edward Daly has spoken of his intense pride after being given the freedom of the City of Derry along with Church of Ireland cleric, Bishop James Mehaffy.
Speaking at the ceremony in The Guildhall, the bishop said the award was “a wonderful honour.”
“I am hugely pleased to accept it, particularly when it is being shared with my friend and brother, Bishop James. It is enhanced by the fact that the honour is conferred by the elected representatives of our fellow citizens.”
The pair were honoured for their work for the city but particularly throughout the Troubles, when through them the Catholic Church and Church of Ireland maintained a strong dialogue in a bid to bring about a peaceful cessation of the violence.
Bishop Daly acknowledged this in his acceptance speech, referring to the worst times during this period as “the valley of darkness”. But this testing period had brought the two clerics together, “that we should give witness to the power of Christian friendship, that we should demonstrate the benefits of sharing rather than dividing and be symbols of unity rather than division.”
He highlighted several ecumenical organisations that had been set up at the height of the Troubles, “which are still going strong today, thank God.” In particular, he had drawn great comfort from the Inner City Trust, which was, he said, “a powerful example of involving hundreds of disadvantaged young people in construction, offering them their rightful dignity and giving them a sense of ownership of their own city centre.
“From the Inner City Trust, the Waterside Churches Trust came into being. In 1983, we were both involved with Dr Tom McGinley here in this Guildhall in the initial public meeting and the foundation of the Foyle Hospice. Both the Inner Trust and the Foyle Hospice have been wonderful examples of the power of positive influences in our city, positive influences of true Christianity at work, positive influences in the importance of giving their rightful dignity to every human being.”
The bishop was at pains to note the huge footsteps in which himself and Bishop Mehaffy were following: “The last two people to be given freedom of this city were Dr John Hume and Dr Tom McGinley. I am honoured and humbled to follow in their giant footsteps.”
Fellow Catholic clergy were quick to add their words of praise to those of Derry City Council. Bishop McKeown said that the decision to award Bishops Edward and James with the freedom of Derry was “a fitting tribute to two courageous figures who took huge risks for peace in the most difficult years of the Troubles.
“Their dogged work in public and in private were signs of hope at a time when there was little or no political engagement. They – and other lesser known figures across the Church and civic society – laid the ground for the later agreements.
“In a city marked by death and confrontation, they burned brightly themselves as beacons of hope.
“Nearly 50 years after the conflict erupted in Derry City, it is wonderful that the work of these two remarkable men is being recognised by a city.”
Archbishop Eamon Martin echoed these comments, adding: “This special accolade is a fitting tribute to their Christian ministry and leadership. It is also appropriate that this honour is being conferred on both men at the same time because for many years they have worked hard to build bridges in the city and, in doing so, together they both made a tangible difference to the lives of the people of Derry and beyond.”
While accepting the honour, Bishop Edward said it was more a tribute to the city of Derry itself: “My experience here over five decades has convinced me of one thing above all others – that we can do much more together than we can do apart. Difference should be seen as enriching rather than threatening. There is a rich tapestry of cultures here – and each of them has made an important contribution to who we are and what we are and each should be cherished by us all.
“I treasure my faith and its values and Bishop James treasures his. We learned to share rather than impose, to tolerate rather than to squabble, above all, we learned to respect rather than distrust. If that can be achieved in the midst of bitter conflict, surely it can be achieved at any time.”
CAPTION: The Mayor of Derry, Cllr Brenda Stevenson pictured at the ceremony, with Bishop James Mehaffy (left) and Bishop Edward Daly