Stories from Northern Ireland

Three short stories from Northern Ireland

'Who welcomes Whom?'

Emiko , a little sister from Japan has lived in Northern Ireland in our community near Downpatrick for over ten years. She told me this story: I saw in the newspaper that 10 Refugee families - 51 people including a little baby – would be welcomed in Northern Ireland. These were the first refugees to reach our island.
One day I was going to Downpatrick, our local town where we do our shopping. I called in at the Charity shop, St Vincent’s, where Jocelyne works as a volunteer once a week and noticed a young family with two children. The mother was veiled and looking round the shop. A friend who spoke her language was with her.
Downpatrick Charity shopDownpatrick Charity shop I understood that she was looking for pencil cases for the children who were going to school the following day. The friend explained to me that the family had just arrived from a refugee camp in Syria.
The young father with very limited English, looking at my Japanese face, addressed me: ‘Where do you come from?’ I replied: ‘I am from Japan’. Turning to me with a very broad and joyful smile, he said: ‘WELCOME’. I can still see and feel the kindness and warmth in his voice as well as in the look of kindness of his wife. My heart was lit up by his big smile. It is an experience I will never forget!

‘The wealth of friendship’

I am just back from Ireland spending two weeks with our community in Bishopscourt, near Downpatrick. It is a rural part of Ireland where Christianity has deep roots going back to the time of St Patrick but where life has been marked by suffering over the centuries and society is still very polarized. Again I was so struck by people’s generosity. It is an almost spontaneous generosity, giving ‘till it hurts’. I am reminded of the elderly woman in the Gospel who put her last coin into the Temple fund, even what she needed to live on. I met such a person in our neighbourhood who gives all she has, often to the point of being without an adequate daily meal. I was puzzled, but when I heard her story I understood better. She had met a family from an African country who had suffered during their civil war. A big friendship grew up between them even though they lived on two different continents. It was no longer possible for her to have more than her friend and that meant sharing literally all she had. Friendship for her implied being equal, giving and receiving as belonging to the one family.

‘Seeds of hope’

Margaret and Brian belong to our local catholic parish and we have known them for many years. They have built up a special bond with us since the death of Little sister Asia and visit regularly. One day we see them arrive with several trays of seedling vegetables for Emiko to plant in the garden, mostly cauliflower, and turnips.

My barrow of flowersMy barrow of flowers As our soil is so stony we decided to ask our gardener friend who belongs to a different Church community and who had offered to give us a large patch in her beautiful garden, if she could plant them for us and we would look after them. All summer she showed Emiko how to water and weed around the plants and care for them, but sad to say all to no avail! The worms and slugs and birds had a feast and nothing was left. We thought of the parable of the sower but our story ended differently! The plants never produced the harvest we had hoped for but instead it was a seed of friendship that is growing up between us from our different communities and Churches.