Call for prayer for Belfast after Union flag riots
The Bishop of Down and Dromore is asking Christians to pray following weeks of violence in Belfast over the city council's decision to fly the Union flag on certain days only.
Protests have been held over the flag dispute for the last month and the past week has seen an intensification of violence, with rioting causing injury and damage.
The Right Reverend Harold Miller said the recent unrest had been "tragic and difficult" for Northern Ireland and particularly East Belfast, which falls within the Diocese of Down and Dromore.
He said he was "deeply concerned" about the "potential trajectory" of the current situation, in light of the divisions and violence of Northern Ireland's past.
"Lying behind all of this is the sense in parts of the loyalist community that they have lost a great deal over the past years, especially in terms of identity, and that has led to a fear of the future being uncertain," the bishop said.
"These protests have given a platform to a new generation of younger 'loyalists' who have never been through the suffering of the earlier 'troubles' but who have imbibed the sectarianism of the past.
"It is also happening alongside the dangerous re-grouping of dissident republicans which has been the concern of the police for some time."
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Bishop Miller warned that "urban myths" were being spread by social media and combining with a new "sense of purpose and significance" to create a "dangerous and heady mix".
He appealed to Christians to pray for wisdom for the churches and for peace to prevail.
"I have personally observed at first hand some of the violence, the throwing of petrol bombs and bricks at the police, the threatening atmosphere of gathered crowds in the semi-darkness, the burning of cars, and the fear in old people and families living nearby as their neighbourhoods are rubbished," he said.
"I have asked how the Gospel of the Prince of Peace can be proclaimed and lived out in this context, and I have been brought back again and again to the vulnerability of the Christ-child, born in a world of dangerous political intrigue and power-broking.
"I am asking all of our Christian brothers and sisters wherever they are, to pray for us: for wisdom for the churches in what they say and live, for the grace of God to extend even to those intent on destruction, and for the Spirit of Love and Peace to be poured out again, so that we may learn to live together in harmony and to love one another with the costly love of forgiveness and reconciliation across all divides."