About halfway between Belfast and Dublin in Rostrevor, Northern Ireland is a Benedictine community called Holy Cross Monastery. Begun by the Abbey of Le Bec in France just over 10 years ago, its hope is to follow the vision of Isaiah 56:7 to be a house of prayer for all people.
These brothers want to contribute to reconciliation between Protestants and Catholics in a land, as one brother told us, that is "marked by reciprocal violence and stained by the blood of Christian brothers and sisters."
I was visiting the monastery with a group of pilgrims exploring Celtic spirituality. We spent a day there attending prayers, working in the gardens and talking to the brothers. Brother Thierry told us the monastery was established here when the abbot in Le Bec said he had a vision that it was time the community tried something painful.
So, in 2004, on the worldwide day of ecumenical prayer, the monastery was dedicated with a prayer asking for forgiveness. But in Northern Ireland, as in every other part of the world, forgiveness does not come easy.
Brother Thierry told us both Protestants and Catholics are stuck in their ways of viewing the other. Both groups need to be challenged in their way of thinking but it needs to be done with humbleness, he said, because he has not suffered in the way that many in both of these communities have.
There are many ways to shoot at people, Brother Thierry told us, "and the people here are deeply wounded."
Carved in the wall of the chapel of the monastery, the words from Paul's epistle, "one Lord, one baptism," greeted us each time we entered the chapel for prayers. And when the priest prayed, he prayed for all people who call on Christ's name, and he singled out Orthodox, Catholic, Evangelical and Protestant churches by name.
Brother Thierry said the community wants to serve both Protestants and Catholics in the community. In fact, a majority of the people who have entered through the chapel doors have been Protestant.
"We think it's important to provide a space to listen to all people who can come in such a way that they don't feel they need to hide or wear a mask," he said. "Listening to their pain is enough."
"My house shall be a house of prayer for all people," we hear from the prophet Isaiah. As I walked through the grounds of the monastery and reflected on what I had heard, I wondered what would happen if churches in the United States began to pray this prayer as well.
Ron Byler began a new assignment this month as the executive director of Mennonite Central Committee U.S.