Faith Matters

Pastor James McConnell to be joined by Catholic priest and Imam at 'Music of Healing' event in Rostrevor

Pastor James McConnell will be among the speakers at a 'Music of Healing' event in Rostrevor

JEWISH, Muslim and Christian leaders, including Pastor James McConnell of Whitewell Metropolitan Tabernacle in Belfast, will be taking part in a unique gathering in Co Down next week.

Politicians, scholars and artists will also be taking part in the 'meeting of people of influence' in Rostrevor on March 9 and 10.

The event is anchored in the tradition of the annual 'Music of Healing' seminar which began in the village in the early 1990s.

Inspired by the song of the same name penned by Tommy Sands and the late Pete Seeger, the seminar draws on music and song to facilitate meetings of those on opposite sides in Northern Ireland.

On Thursday March 9 an evening concert will include an interview with Pastor McConnell.

In a case regarded by many as a test of freedom of speech, he was cleared last year of charges that he had made grossly offensive remarks in a sermon streamed on the internet in which he described Islam as "satanic", "heathen" and "a doctrine spawned in hell".

Also appearing will be the Muslim cleric and sean-nós singer Sheikh Dr Muhammad Al-Hussaini and Belfast Catholic priest Fr Patrick McCafferty; both supported Pastor McConnell's right to free speech during the court case.

Musicians will include Steve Cooney, Na Leanai and Maisie Tinnelly.

With global insecurity, religious extremism, Brexit and the future of the Stormont assembly all to be grappled with, a conference on Friday will bring together politicians and religious leaders in an effort to find areas of common understanding.

A focus of this gathering will be to find a 'higher quality of disagreement', with freedom of speech and how that right is exercised among the topics likely to be addressed.

It is hoped that after the day's discussions, it will be possible to fashion a 'Rostrevor Declaration' to outline the results of this groundbreaking initiative and which will inform a St Patrick's day message.

The conference, to be held at the YWAM centre at An Cuan on Shore Road in Rostrevor, has been organised by the 'Art's a Wonder' collective, composed of artists, peace cre-activists, journalists and academics based in the area.

:: Music of Healing starts at 8pm on Thursday March 9 at An Cuan, Shore Road, Rostrevor. The March 10 event is a private conference.

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