Minister tells of reconciliation work in Belfast on Fisher visit

By John Bezon

The Rev. Bill Shaw has spent the past 24 years of his life as a Protestant Presbyterian minister in one of the most religiously conflicted cities in the world; Belfast, Northern Ireland. 

Growing up in Belfast, Shaw has seen the conflict and violence between the Protestants and the Catholics in Northern Ireland that has impacted tens of thousands of people.

That is why he took the time to present a simple message to a crowd of nearly 100 at St. John Fisher College on Feb. 25. He wants to help build peace and reconciliation in Northern Ireland.

The presentation was put on by the Irish Studies Department at St. John Fisher College and included an introduction from the director of the program, Dr. Tim Madigan.

Shaw used the evening not as a history lesson of the conflict between the Protestants and the Catholics in Belfast, but rather as a way to speak about his attempts to limit the ongoing violence.

His largest effort is through being the director of the 174 Trust, a non-denominational community-based organization in one of the most divided and disadvantaged areas of Belfast. His speech highlighted how the Trust works to bring community members together, regardless of religion, with programs that include everyone from preschoolers to senior citizens.

For Shaw, who didn’t meet a Catholic for the first time until he was 17 years old, the goal of the Trust is to introduce Catholics and Protestants to each other from a young age.  That way, there can be a level of acceptance and integration established between the two.

“The vast majority of people want to move forward towards reconciliation and not backwards,” said Shaw.

Shaw also questioned where the church leaders have been in demanding peace and equality. He wants to make sure that he uses his position to prevent bombings, shootings, and deaths that he feels could have already been prevented had these leaders stepped forward earlier.

After Shaw’s presentation ended, he wrapped up the evening with a question

Photos by John Bezon

A mural featuring Frederick Douglass, above, that dominates part of one of the most divided parts of Belfast, Northern Ireland was one of the images shown by the Rev. Bill Shaw, director of the 174 Trust in Belfast, during his visit to Fisher

and answer session with the audience. One of the questionsasked by a student provoked the Reverend to think about who Northern Ireland may be governed by in the future.

After thinking about it for a moment, Shaw just responded by simply saying, “It doesn’t really matter, I just want peace.”

This simple message drove home the whole meaning of his presentation.