Supporting an International Peacemaker. UK, October 18th

Sky Interview with Jo Berry and Pat Magee

Former IRA Bomber Pat Magee and Jo Berry interviewed on Sky TV - Click on the link above to watch.

Women for a Change supporter, Jo Berry

Earlier this year, I came across a remarkable and inspiring woman, Jo Berry.
In July, I arranged to meet with Jo, to listen to her story, and learn from her.

25 years ago today, Jo’s father, Sir Anthony Berry, was killed in a terrorist bomb attack. Four other people were killed and many more were injured.

Her father was, at the time, Treasurer of the Royal Household, Conservative MP and deputy chief whip in Margaret Thatcher's cabinet.
Jo, first cousin of Princess Diana, was quite unconventional.
"My dad was devoted to the family and was very non-judgemental, but he did worry how to explain me to his friends!”
Before the bomb, Jo had been studying Mahatma Ghandi. ”Nonviolence has always played an important part of my life”. She says.

At the time of the bomb, Jo had recently returned from a meditational journey in the Himalayas and had been intending to set off for Africa. She had become very close to her father those last few months. “It’s lovely that I felt validated and acknowledged by him”.

Jo had no idea that her father was in any danger.
The shock of his death brought the devastating heartbreak and loss felt by families when a loved one suddenly dies.
However, there was also the anger and bewilderment which is inevitable when someone is killed by violence. Jo’s belief system was challenged.

Looking back, Jo finds it extraordinary how little support there was for the families of victims of terrorism.
Those first few days were some of the hardest of her life. She felt disconnected, living in a dream.
Incredibly, two days later, Jo went into a church service and made an inner pledge that she would find something positive. That she would try to understand those behind the bombing.
“Suddenly I could feel the pain of people affected by war, by violence, by terrorism”.
That was the beginning of a journey.

Another turning point came two or three months later.
By pure synchronicity, Jo had a taxi-ride with a man who told her his brother had been killed by the British Army in Ireland.
Though from ‘opposing sides’, the two had much in common. They shared their stories and their pain with each other.

As Jo left the taxi, the words came to her, “I can build a bridge – a bridge across the divide. That’s one way that I can help”.

The words stayed with her and started to give meaning to what had happened.

Jo resolved that, if she was going to truly overcome her personal bitterness, it would mean confronting the bomber.
“It was part of my own healing to hear his story and reach an understanding of why he chose violence. I wanted to see him as a human being”.

In 1998, Pat Magee was released from prison.

Now needing support and healing more than ever, Jo went to a reconciliation centre in the Wicklow mountains and met other victims of terrorism.
"The moment I walked into the room, I knew it was safe. No one was going to say: 'Haven't you let go yet?' It became my world."
The contacts she made there helped set up the meeting with Patrick Magee.

She saw that first meeting with Pat as a one-off.
"It was just the two of us, very private.

I thanked him for coming. I thought it was a brave thing for him to do.
And he said, 'No, no – thank you for inviting me.'

My first impression was that he was very polite, very quietly spoken, small.
He didn't conform to my idea of what a terrorist should look like at all.

After an hour and a half he stopped talking, he rubbed his eyes and said:. 'I don't know who I am any more. I don't know what to say.
I want to help. I want to hear you’re your anger and your pain'.
He really opened up and we were two human beings..

At that point, I wanted to run. I didn't know where it would take me. I wondered if I was betraying my father.
A voice inside me was saying: What are you doing talking to the man who killed your father, go now!
I was really quite fragile and way out of my comfort zone.

But part of me wanted this to make a difference. It felt positive".
Originally, the meeting was for Jo’s own inner healing.
"I thought, if I can experience him as a human being, then that’s going to give my humanity back.
Then I began to think, ‘This could actually be a force for change’.
It was a big decision to go public with it”.

Jo is delighted that she and Pat have been invited to speak at the All-Party Parliamentary Group on Conflict Issues at the House of Commons the day this Tuesday.
"I want to show the MPs what war is about, that they need to humanise the enemy.
If you don't talk, then there's just going to be violence. No one is born a terrorist."

Jo believes that the money which is currently spent on war should be channeled into conflict resolution and prevention instead.
“If we can listen to people before they choose violence”, she says, “then peace is achievable”.

"I remember Bobby Sands on hunger strike in 1981, before the Brighton bomb, and wishing that the Tory government had been listening”.

Pat Magee, too, believes that much can be achieved, and has been achieved, through engaging in open political dialogue rather than exclusion.

Jo’s ideas about conflict resolution start at home with the family.
"I have tried to not blame and make one child right and one wrong, but instead listen to all sides and help them to come up with their own solution. They are very skilled in resolving conflict and remind me when I start shouting and blaming! They are good teachers for me too."
Jo has a busy home-life, as a single mum to her three teenage daughters who she’s home-educate. Two have now moved on to college and are doing very well.
She says. "I wanted my children to be able to develop self-esteem and be emotionally articulate.”

Jo's extraordinary empathy is forming the basis of models and theories of empathy, in an Open University linguistic study, which analyses her early conversations with Pat.

"It's a very unusual friendship. If the definition of a friend is someone you care about, then, yes, he's a friend. But he is always willing to acknowledge the hurt he has done, which makes it safe for me emotionally to meet him."

Jo feels the word forgiveness can be misleading, because it suggests an absence of anger – and there are times when she still feels angry. Forgiveness, as she sees it, is not a neat once-and-for-all emotion but something that is constantly being put to the test. "I prefer to say I can understand."

“I think his actions, what he did, were evil, but not the person. You have to separate them to avoid blame, and find a new way of thinking that will break that cycle of violence."

Pat has stated categorically that he will never kill again.
“I will always carry the burden that I harmed other human beings. But I'm not seeking forgiveness."

Jo’s stepbrother, George, who was 17 when his father was killed, says: "I understand perfectly why Jo has taken the course she has. It is not something I could do. She is a very compassionate person, lovely to be around, and it is her way of dealing with what happened. She always looks for the best in people."

Jo says, “Life has been challenging, but I have also gained so much, met so many amazing, inspiring people and experienced so much. I am glad I went on a journey of healing.
I’m definitely so much stronger now
I really do think that anything can be transformed… whatever we receive can be transformed.

“I would not wish the pain of losing someone through violence on anyone.
When someone is killed by violence, whether war or terrorism, the pain is the same.
Using violence to resolve conflict causes more victims and more violence”.
Jo puts all her energy into supporting people around the world who are taking big steps into peace-building.

This is why Jo set up her charity, Building Bridges for Peace which is being officially launched next week.

Pat & Jo’s relationship has featured in a BBC documentary, Facing the Enemy, and in a new film, Soldiers of Peace, narrated by the actor Michael Douglas, released this year, that features stories of conflict resolution around the world.

Next Sunday, Jo and Pat will appear together at the Duke of York's Picturehouse, Brighton, for a major screening of Soldiers of Peace at the launch of Jo’s charity.

The event will be followed by a discussion in which Jo and Pat share their individual journeys.

So far, 7 of us are going along... We hope to see you there!

Tel +44 (o)871 7042056 for tickets.

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