Dalai Lama says he expects to return to his native Tibet someday
Exiled Tibetan Buddhist leader joins church men in walk across Derry's Peace Bridge
The Dalai Lama walks across the Peace Bridge during his visit to Derry. Photograph: Reuters
You never quite know what you are going to get when the Dalai Lama comes to town. We journalists were gathered in the conference room of the City Hotel in Derry waiting our turn to ask him questions before he set off to symbolically walk the new Peace Bridge over the Foyle.
Marian Shanleywest from Drumlin Media TV in Cavan told him she had a list of queries she wanted to put to him but really all she wanted was “a hug”.
“OK,” said the Dalai Lama, “but no kiss.” He didn’t want lipstick on his face. So up went the web journalist to embrace the exiled Tibetan Buddhist leader and also to hug Richard Moore, the man responsible for bringing him to Derry in its year as UK City of Culture.
In truth the request for a hug wasn’t that surprising. The Dalai Lama is a man of great good humour and infectious warmth, a leader who, as he said, can be a “mischievous Dalai Lama”.
While the rules of journalism may be changing, the former Irish News political editor Billy Graham, a longtime student of Buddhism, wanted to know did the Dalai Lama think he would ever see his native Tibet again – a good question that would provide a top line for us more conventional journos.
The Dalai Lama obliged. The 78-year-old reflected that China, which has control of Tibet, was changing, becoming more open and now, with 400 million followers, had the largest Buddhist population in the world. “Definitely in my lifetime I will have the opportunity to return to Tibet,” he said.
Holding Mr Moore’s hand from time to time, he said it was a “very special day” but in his maroon and saffron robes he worried a little about whether he would be subjected to Derry rain as they walked the bridge. Joining them were the Catholic administrator in the Derry diocese and soon-to-be Coadjutor Archbishop of Armagh Eamon Martin and Church of Ireland Bishop of Derry Ken Good.
Of course the sun shone brightly when they all set out across the bridge from the Catholic cityside to the more Protestant Waterside, with a guard of honour of 300 local primary children singing Peace is Flowing Like a River . Wearing brown brogues, the journey over the Foyle was no bother to him. Sensible Dalai Lama.
The spiritual leader had a special message for young people. “This century should be the century of dialogue. The last century was the century of violence...Whenever you face problems, try to solve them through dialogue and talk.”
He said the peace process remained the only way forward and warned against self-centredness, urging people in Northern Ireland to “come together with a desire and hope for peace and a harmonious society”.
Mr Moore – who in 1972 was blinded when struck by a rubber bullet fired by a British soldier whom he later forgave – said it was an “extraordinary” event. He said the Dalai Lama was an “icon of peace, compassion and forgiveness”. In turn the Dalai Lama said Mr Moore was his “hero”.
“The Peace Bridge is a symbol of the future as are the children of this area,” added Mr Moore, who is head and founder of Children in Crossfire, a local charity dedicated to helping children in some of the poorest countries in the world.
On the far side of the bridge, the ever-beaming Dalai Lama shared his cheerful nature and his thoughts on the subject of compassion with some 2,000 people in the Venue arts centre, which is on the old British army site, among them the singer Christy Moore, who sang for the religious leader. The soldier called Charles who blinded Mr Moore also attended the event at the Venue.