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SSU study abroad trip participant article — "Negotiating Peace" by Dr. Agnes Kramer-Hamstra

The following article was first published in 'Christian Courier' (January 8, 2024). It was written by SSU professor emeritus, Dr. Agnes Kramer-Hamstra, who was a participant of St. Stephen's University's study abroad trip in Northern Ireland. This is her experience.

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What leads to the eruption of physical violence – the fist fight, the storming of the Capitol, the bombings, the kidnappings of hostages? What does it take to change the entrenched stories that keep “them” apart from “us”? How do you bring sworn enemies to the same table to discuss peace?

These are the questions we considered in a circle of chairs last summer in Derry, Northern Ireland, along with Kathleen Gillespie and Robin Young. On October 24, 1990, Kathleen’s husband Patsy was kidnapped by the Irish Republican Army (IRA) and forced to become a human bomb. He was chained into a van loaded with explosives and made to drive into a British army checkpoint. He was killed, “vaporized,” commented Robin, along with five soldiers, even as his shouted warning saved the lives of others. Robin was a police officer at the time, one of the first on the scene as part of the Body Recovery Identification Team. Today, both Kathleen and Robin actively campaign for reconciliation.

I was in Ireland along with 16 others as part of a Peace and Justice Studies program offered through New Brunswick’s St. Stephen University. It was a two-week study abroad component focusing on “The Troubles,” the sectarian violence that marked Northern Ireland from 1969 to 1998. It felt like a pilgrimage, similar to Abram and Sara’s: destination unknown and marked by more questions than answers. Each pilgrim came with questions arising from tensions in their own countries: Rwanda, South Africa, Germany, the Netherlands, Scotland and different parts of Canada and the U.S. We were all spurred on by a deep desire to understand the polarizations in our own lives.


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