A Christmas Reflection from Belfast, Northern Ireland

We have given as best we can to schools in Belfast, Northern Ireland since the fall semester, 2002.  The journey has been a challenging and delightful one.  For us, from the United States, to make our way into the hearts of principals and teachers in an area of the world that has known contention was not easy.  We were outsiders and they are looked on with some suspicion.  “What is in it for you?” was the question asked of us at the beginning of this journey.  We had at our side the wonderful Anne Gallagher, who opened school doors for us. She had been in the peace movement in Belfast for some years before us and so she gave us instant acceptance into the schools.  Rest in peace, Anne.

It has been a joy to see principals, teachers, and students grow in their understanding and appreciation of the virtue of forgiveness, so needed to Holy Family School-Belfastbind up the wounds of literally hundreds of years of strife.

I had the privilege of attending meetings and services in both the “maintained” and “controlled” schools during the Christmas season this year.  The word “maintained” refers mostly to private schools that receive some government money.  Students attending these schools are primarily Catholic.  The word “controlled” refers mostly to what Americans call public schools that receive more government money.  Students attending these schools are primarily, but not exclusively, Protestant.

In the Christmas services at the maintained and controlled schools there is a celebration of the deepest meaning of Christmas, not just about presents and good cheer.  You see, those in each school share this common heritage, yet they do so separately because they lead separate lives.

Yet, there is something more here.  As I walked through the streets  of Belfast, especially once the sun would set (about 4:20pm), there was a kind of coziness to the city.  “Merry Christmas, Belfast” is seen in blue lights that are strung across a busy street.  Shops play Christmas music that is gently piped into the streets.  One is surrounded by the Christmas spirit.  This is so different from America in which there is a certain self-conscious embarrassment to share this Christmas spirit, as people on occasion mutter, “Happy holidays” in contrast to the exuberance and un-self-conscious joy that unites a city historically divided.

There is much hope for Belfast, I say to myself as I walk along the busy thoroughfares.  They share more than a common heritage of conflict and contention.  They actually do share the common heritage of peace and love and joy as well.  A key now is for each side to begin seeing this common heritage, including the insight that this heritage honors each person as precious, unique, and irreplaceable. The message from forgiveness education is similar: We all have inherent worth no matter what our religion or cultural heritage….or historical contentions.

Merry Christmas, Belfast, no matter what your cultural and religious heritage is.  May forgiveness be one of the important common heritages as people in the distant years to come look back on their city.


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Categories: Children, Education, Future, Inherent Worth, Our Forgiveness Blog, Special Days


  1. Deborah says:

    And a Merry Christmas, International Forgiveness Institute! Your work is so important. I hope that many in this troubled world take the time to see what it is you are doing. You are offering a great hope to that world through a concrete plan of forgiveness. Yours is the most specific, long-range, and hopeful peace plan that I have ever seen.

  2. Samantha says:

    For those of you unfamiliar with Dr. Enright’s peace plan through forgiveness education, many of his papers on this subject are on this very website here:

    At the homepage, click on “Education and Therapy.” At the drop-down menu, click on “Information for school principals, teachers, and administrators.” Then click on the first hot-link in that article. You will be brought to the articles.

    Deborah, I agree that this plan is visionary and very concrete and clear. The typical scholars in peace studies are light years behind. I do not wish to insult anyone, but the vision for the future is right here and its name is forgiveness education.

  3. Amanda says:

    Beautiful. These children are receiving a gift that literally will last a lifetime. Long after they forget some of their geography or history facts, I hope the lessons of forgiveness stay with them. They could be the ones to craft a better world and even to endure well a world that refuses to listen.

  4. Chris says:

    The unity of the two groups of people is right under their own noses. Why are not some seeing this? Those who extend the violence are not seeing this at all. Maybe it is time that they opened their eyes. They might be delighted by what they see and feel.


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