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Faith matters

Religious Affairs Correspondent: William Scholes tel: 028 9033 7544 email:

Belfast choir’s journey to the international stage
HEN I arrived in 2007 I was very fortunate at the cathedral in having a small nucleus of boys from the Down and Connor choir and a fantastic assistant, Helen Frame, who was and still is invaluable. She was able to steer me in the direction of good primary schools with strong musical leanings and I met some really positive staff who wanted to be associated with the new idea of establishing a boys’ choir that would sing traditional church music with a timeless repertoire. Once I had gathered this motley crew of raw talent I had to turn them into a unified bunch of singers and I can honestly say I could not have done it without the help of the parents, without whose support we simply could not survive as a choir. One of my first tasks was to take the boys and parents to London to let them hear what an established choir could sound like. The boys attended Masses with the London Oratory School Schola at Brompton Oratory, a relatively new choir, established in 1996, and within five years had recorded the soundtracks for the Harry Potter and Lord of the Rings films. We carried on rehearsing twice a week, established a monthly recital and built up the repertoire from Haydn, Schubert and Mozart


A new series Choirboys continues on Monday on BBC One Northern Ireland from 10.35pm. It follows the Schola Cantorum from St Peter’s Cathedral in Belfast. Choirmaster Nigel McClintock explains how far the choir has come
Masses along with scores of motets and anthems. In July 2009 we toured Paris, singing at the Cathedral of Notre Dame at the International Mass and St Etienne-du-Mont. The ultimate tour must have been our trip to Rome in June/July where we had the unique honour of singing at the papal Pallium Mass on the Feast of St Peter and St Paul and also to sing for the Holy Father at the audience, where he acknowledged the “Schola Cantorum of St Peter’s Cathedral Belfast, for their praise of God in Song”. Humbling indeed to be thanked by the Pope. How can we as a choir better that affirmation? What lies ahead for the schola? They are in the middle of recording their first CD and plans are in train for another trip to Paris. My next ambition is to get them to record for a film soundtrack. Who knows?

■ ‘ULTIMATE TOUR’: The Schola Cantorum of St Peter’s Cathedral in Belfast had the honour of singing at the papal Pallium Mass on the Feast of St Peter and St Paul this summer on a trip to Rome where they also sang for Pope Benedict at his papal audience

What clergy say publicly can contribute to reconciliation
When they speak into the public square, are clergy and religious leaders just voices in the wilderness? Earl Storey thinks they could do better
REMEMBER where I was when I watched the events of 9/11 unfold. I also remember what I did that night. I stayed up to watch the US president address his nation and the rest of the world: “A great people has been moved to defend a great nation. Terrorist attacks can shake the foundations of our biggest buildings but they cannot touch the foundation of America.” Big events are important not just for what happened but for what is said in their aftermath. On such a day I needed to hear what the leader of that nation had to say. What he said and how he said it was important even to me – thousands of miles away. What leaders say in public is important. It doesn’t matter whether we like them or not. Their words at key times set a tone. They have the potential to shape future events for good or ill. From world-changing events to nearer to home. As the Troubles unfolded what lead-


ers said at key times was of vital importance they shaped events. What leaders say in the public space is still crucial to our future. Public words spoken at vital times over the last 40 years have often come in two ways. In the aftermath of violent acts we looked to see what would be said by those in a position to say something. At other times it has been at times of growing community tension. Words are the stock in trade of Northern Ireland politicians. They are usually well experienced at speaking to the press. In reality exposure in the media is part of the oxygen of a political career. Other people have had a public platform thrust upon them in the most unwelcome and costly circumstances. Who can forget the words of Gordon Wilson following the death of his daughter Marie in the Enniskillen bomb? “I bear no ill will. I bear no grudge. Dirty sort of talk is not going to bring her back to life.”

Or Michael McGoldrick as he buried his son, the victim of loyalist killers? At a time of extreme tension he appealed for restraint and asked those contemplating violence to “Bury your pride with my boy.” These are words that have had the most enormous impact for good in Northern Ireland. There is another group of people that have been asked to respond publicly during the events of the past 40 years – clergy. The place of the Church in people’s minds may be shifting. Yet there is still an interest in what clergy have to say in response to significant events. Whether at a tense interface, following a violent act or addressing some public discussion, clergy have had to speak into the public space. Think of Holy Cross, Drumcree, or the aftermath of violence. Clergy were asked to voice a public opinion. They still are. Clergy are not trained politicians yet they are often asked to speak to the media. What they say can influence events or set a tone for healing or division. Perhaps the most enticing option in a divided society is to say nothing at all, even with many words. That is what inspires journalists Liam Clarke, Kathryn Johnston and myself

to run ‘Speaking Publicly For Peace’, a suite of courses for clergy in how to engage with the media. Speaking Publicly for Peace is not about helping clergy find ways of advertising their church or polish their profile. It’s not for getting more people through a particular door on a Sunday morning. No, it comes from the recognition that clergy have some sort of leadership role in their local community. What they say can still make a difference. The reaction of clergy to the media can be the same as any-

teresting times are when it is run on a cross-community basis. Participants found a lot of common ground. They also found it useful to know each other’s sensitive points and vulnerabilities. This draws out a crucial lesson about the use of public words. Those in leadership spend much time thinking about how their public utterances go down in their own community. Words must also be chosen in full awareness of their likely impact on the different groups hearing them

“Perhaps the most enticing option in a divided society is to say nothing at all, even with many words”
one else – fascination or the desire to ‘run for the hills’. The reaction of fear is often simply because of the unknown. Speaking Publicly for Peace is about taking away that sense of nervousness. It is about helping clergy see that what they say into the public space can still make a difference. It is showing them that they can engage with the media for the public good without being either naive or fearful. Having run the course in various parts of Northern Ireland, one thing is clear. The most inincluding those from the ‘other’ community. That is where the greatest potential for healing or division can be. So, are clergy interested in speaking publicly for peace? The answer is more often ‘yes’ than we may acknowledge. At a recent course run for Protestant and Catholic clergy in Belfast one participant put it like this: “I like to see the Church reaching across the community and acting as a healing force. “My vocation to the ordained ministry was deeply embedded in the feeling

that the Church could be a reconciler.” Talking about unresolved divisions in Northern Ireland, he continued: “In some cases the Church appears to be a spectator. I think there is a huge potential for us doing more.” Being equipped to speak into the public space is one way of doing just that. I began with one catastrophe. Let me finish with another – Rwanda in 1994. Over 100 days almost one million people, out of a population of eight million, were murdered in ethnic violence. Neighbour was literally killed by neighbour. What scars are left on a country where so much atrocity has taken place? One of the most abiding memories I have of a visit to Rwanda in 2005 is of an incredible public voice for reconciliation. It came from government. It came from faith communities and it also came from all parts of civil society. The words may have varied but the message was the same. All sections of a wounded country made it their business to speak publicly for reconciliation. Words spoken into the public space really do matter. ■ For further information see or www.