Two bishops from the North West – one Roman Catholic and the other Church of Ireland – paid a symbolic visit to a flood-damaged bridge in County Londonderry on Thursday morning as they prepared to embark on a joint pilgrimage from Claudy to Strabane. The fifteen-mile walk was the penultimate in a series of pilgrimages Bishop Ken Good and Bishop Donal McKeown have been undertaking this year to highlight their shared Christian witness and heritage.
Their latest walk began with prayers in St Patrick's Roman Catholic Church in Claudy and then at Cumber Upper Church of Ireland, which has a stained glass window commemorating the young Claudy bomb victim, Kathryn Eakin. Before setting off on their walk, the two leaders visited a nearby bridge which had been wrecked in the recent flooding and spoke to workmen who are repairing it. Bishop McKeown said the gesture was symbolic of their determination to build bridges in the community.
Half way through their walk, the church leaders stopped at Donagheady Parish’s church hall, in Donemana, for lunch. They were entertained by a choir comprised of children from four local primary schools. The schools are taking part in a shared education project and Thursday’s performance was the first public demonstration of their shared learning.
Despite a dismal weather forecast, the two bishops avoided rainfall until they reached Artigarvan, where a heavy cloudburst forced them to don wet-weather gear. They were met on the outskirts of Strabane by Fr Declan Boland from Strabane (Camus) Parish and by the Curate of Camus-Juxta-Mourne Parish, Rev Mark Lennox. The Strabane clergymen had organised brief joint services in Christ Church Church of Ireland and the Church of the Immaculate Conception.
Bishop Good said during the walk he had been overwhelmed by the messages of support and sympathy he had received from right across the community following the desecration of Christ Church Londonderry during a break-in earlier in the week. He said the messages of solidarity would be a great comfort for the parishioners at Christ Church.
The bishops will complete the last leg of their pilgrimage series on Saturday when they walk from Limavady to Garvagh. Last April they completed a three-day walk from St Columba’s birthplace at Gartan, in Donegal, to St Augustine’s Church in Derry-Londonderry (a distance of 34 miles), and in June they made a joint visit to the island of Iona, where St Columba settled, founded a monastery and eventually died.
“We are eager to heighten the profile of faith traditions in our dioceses,” the church leaders said in a joint statement, “and hope our shared witness to the Gospel will encourage reconciliation in our community. We want to raise awareness of the long ecclesiastical history of our community, its shared Columban narrative and rich Christian heritage.”