Taking a summer break from 20 years of 'troubles' Ireland's Protestant and Catholic teens find a haven here


Use as a backdrop some TV news shots of the troubles in Northern Ireland, play some anguished U2 music, dilute with a dollop of American enthusiasm and mix in a peaceful Annapolis home.

The result is the Children's Friendship Project for Northern Ireland, a program that pairs Catholic and Protestant youngsters from Northern Ireland for six weeks in America.

Joseph T. Murphy has helped bring together Anne Arundel County families with students visiting through the national program this summer.

Five years ago, Murphy's own family played host to teen-agers through the program and found it rewarding.

"They were a combination of wary and suspicious and friendly," he said of the teen-agers, who in Belfast are less likely to meet or become friends because of the strife.

The current civil unrest in Northern Ireland erupted in 1969.

"That means these teen-agers have never known peace. They've all been raised in an atmosphere of discrimination, fear and violence," said the Rev. George R. Demass of Perry Hall, another Maryland coordinator of the program.

"The program is a long-range effort to advance prospects for peace in Ireland by improving communications, understanding and tolerance among future adults and leaders," he said.

In the peaceful home of an American family, program coordinators and host families hope the teen-agers can become friends.

Murphy said experiences vary for the youngsters who visit. The teen-agers who stayed with his family in the past "were good friends while here, but they did not continue a relationship when they got back home."

"Often the problem is that one is from the Protestant section and is not allowed to be seen in the Roman Catholic section," Murphy explained. "It's difficult to maintain a relationship, but in many instances the teen-agers have maintained relationships. There are many instances of them becoming steadfast friends."

The project is bringing 35 teen-agers, ages 13 to 17, to Maryland during July and part of August. About 15 families in the Washington and Baltimore areas are sharing their homes with the visitors.

The Friendship Project is a non-profit national organization established in 1986 and based in Manheim, Pa.

In past years, more than a dozen families in Severna Park and Annapolis have shared their ideals of religious tolerance and home life. Several Annapolis families are among those participating this year.

Kathy Hidenfelter of Severna Park, who has relatives living in Ireland, and her husband, Ken, remain close friends with two teen-age girls they housed.

Each host family pays about $1,400, which includes air fare and insurance. Families who wish to host a student but cannot afford it may apply for limited assistance from the program.

"In my opinion, the next generation is who we may help," Murphy says. "These children, when they have children, will pass on their lack of prejudice. It's not a short-term fix-it for a problem, but it's a start."

For more information, contact the Rev. George R. Demass at 256-5360.

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