The Dalai Lama yesterday visited the city of Londonderry to lead Protestant and Catholic children in a symbolic walk across a peace bridge, delivering a message of hope and support for the peace process.
Undaunted by sharp showers of rain, the Tibetan leader alternated earnest entreaties with much chuckling and laughter in a combination of spirituality and humour which seemed to charm the locals.
Dressed in his characteristic red robes he told the young: “The last century was the century of violence. This must be the century of peace. My generation's century is now gone, but the future is still in your hands.”
He insisted: “You have the main responsibility, the opportunity.”
His visit was one of the events of in Derry's year as 2013 UK city of culture. The city is still sporadically troubled by attacks from republican dissidents but the Dalai Lama's message was forthright.
He declared: “There is no other alternative to the peace process. There is no other choice - you have to work and live together, so we should not act like animals.”
He was invited to Derry by Richard Moore who, blinded by a plastic bullet at the age of ten, is now director of the charity Children in Crossfire. He described Mr Moore as “my hero,” saying he had reacted to the tragedy of losing his sight by keeping his mind peaceful and calm.
Touchingly, he held Mr Moore's hand as he described their relationship and spoke of the need for peace and reconciliation and of building a happier and more compassionate world.
Mr Moore replied: “We hope that by bringing together the spirit of His Holiness, the children and the culture of compassion from our organisation that we can create a real legacy of peace.”
Those who gathered to see him, despite a keen Atlantic wind, appeared impressed. Sarah O'Neill, 23, from Minnesota, said: “Peace is obviously something we need in the world, and he is a symbol of peace on the world stage.”
Rachel Steele, who is studying peace and conflict studies, said: “We got to meet him and shake hands, which was very exciting for us as students. He's very friendly, very nice, very commonsense in what he says.”
A woman who had driven three hours to hear him speak said: “We came out of curiosity but it's really exciting just to be here, it's a historic moment.”
A man in his seventies said: “It's nice to see him. The atmosphere here now is unbelievable, it's completely changed from what it used to be.” He had caustic words for local dissident republicans, saying: “They're all gangsters, they're out for their own gains, they don't know what the word republican means.
“Ireland will definitely be united some day but they'll never do it by force.” He was unconvinced that the Dalai Lama would be able to bring enlightenment to those still pursing violent means.