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The courage of peace

- February 19, 2014

Ireland's Corrymeela Centre.
Ireland's Corrymeela Centre.

Dalhousie celebrated the Irish a bit ahead of schedule this year with a visit from Paul Hutchinson earlier this month.

The former director of the Corrymeela Centre traveled from Northern Ireland to share his experiences about peace and reconciliation and offer insight about re-imagining the idea of community. His visit was hosted in part by the Dalhousie Multifaith Centre.

During his visit, Hutchinson led several events including an open lecture, a workshop and orientation, a screening of his documentary Upstanding – Stories of Courage from Northern Ireland, a fundraiser and a preach at St. John's Church. While certain events were open to the public and others restricted to Dal students, Hutchinson maintained a common theme of conflict resolution and good communication. He spoke about his four years at Corrymeela and the importance of reconciliation, respect and reflection.

The centre, founded with Christian values in 1965, has since evolved into an open community that helps families, young people, schools and international groups work through issues regarding gender, sexuality, education or environmental interaction.

“We're not saying religion brings peace,” says Hutchinson. “In fact, we would say lots of religion brings war, and as a community we were one of the first people to say that we are part of the problem. However, we would also say that in all the major religions, there is something about finding that of God in another person and welcoming the stranger as someone that has something special to offer.

“Corrymeela brings a religious perspective, but we are open about what we believe and are often saying: This is the Corrymeela story; what is your story?”

Building relationships of restoration

At his Thursday evening lecture, Hutchinson spoke about a project he spearheaded called "Having a Say," which focused on using restorative justice to strengthen relationships between youth and police. While most of his work is based in Ireland, he encourages other countries to establish programs to hold institutions accountable and maintain peace.

“The project was successful on all sorts of levels,” Hutchinson said. “I think there are principles about how to build relationships in a restorative way so that power is balanced, people have a voice and minorities are protected.”

Since retiring from his role as director of the centre in December of last year, Hutchinson now sits as one of five commissioners on the Northern Ireland Parades Commission encouraging mediation of contentious parades and does freelance work with an organization he founded called Imagined Spaces.

In the wake of his first trip to Canada, the Dal Northern Ireland Dialogue for Peace Project has sent a group of students to Corrymeela during reading week to learn more about the centre's work. Martha Martin, chaplain and coordinator at the Dalhousie Multifaith Centre, organized and joined students on the trip.

“It's really about facilitating conversations,” she said. “We want to explore practices and theories of peacemaking as we learn about it in Northern Ireland and see how it relates to conflict and what we know here.”
Through his work, it’s clear that Hutchinson agrees.
“Something that is helpful to consider is how we live well with difference,” he said. “We are all connected on a fundamental human level, but we are also very different. Those differences have the power to be deeply divisive but, I think, can also be profoundly engaging.”


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