Building bridges of communication, love and understanding is the goal of the Ulster Project, which this week welcomed 24 teenagers from Northern Ireland to Utah.

Now in its fourth year in Salt Lake City and just beginning in Ogden, the project is an ecumenical peace program designed to strengthen human relationships in war-torn Northern Ireland.The teenagers - 12 each from Omagh and Enniskillen in County Tyrone - are in Utah for a month of fun and adventure. Their activities include visits to Hogle Zoo and Hansen Planetarium, camping and running rivers.

Many of the activities are specifically geared to enhance trust and cooperation.

"But there is also a serious side to the project - a purpose behind all the fun," said Rien Heymering, Utah Board president of the Ulster Proj-ect. He welcomed the group during an ecumenical service Wednesday evening in St. Vincent's De Paul Catholic Church, Salt Lake City. A separate service and social was held at Good Shepherd Episcopal Church, Ogden.

The Ulster Project was started in 1975 by the Rev. Canon Kerry Waterstone, a Church of Ireland priest at St. Catherine's Parish in Tullamore, southern Ireland. The Rev. Waterstone and his wife, Edie, accompanied the group to Utah.

The Rev. Waterstone hoped to get Catholic and Protestant youths to meet and become acquainted with each other in a neutral place.

He hoped they would learn to see each other as people and find non-violent ways to resolve their differences.

The project now has sister cities in 15 areas of the United States.

"It's when you look at the teenagers that you realize it is worthwhile," the priest said upon his arrival at Salt Lake International Airport.

He recounted experiences of attending a recent youth talent show in Enniskillen, a community in Northern Ireland where a bomb exploded two years ago, killing 11 people and injuring many more.

"When you see the youngsters' faces, see their hope and realize that these are people putting on a talent show together, who - if it weren't for the Ulster Project - wouldn't know each other, wouldn't talk to each other, would never meet each other. And when you see their parents involved, the clergy involved - all working happily together," the value of it all is apparent, he said.

"We are coming from a country where Protestants are fearful of Roman Catholics having power. Roman Catholics are fearful of Protestants continuing in power. It is rather interesting for us to come to a state with an entirely different type of church - at least to our eyes - that has the power and to see the relations between your church and state and the other churches," the Rev. Waterstone said.

Gary McDonough, Ulster Project publicity director, said people from many Utah religious denominations are involved in efforts ranging from fund raising to acting as host families.

The Ulster Project not only strengthens relationships between youths from Ireland, but also helps build bridges between churches and their members in the United States.

"The amazing thing is what has happened locally. Catholic, LDS and Protestants have all worked very hard at this project. There are bridges and barriers to be broken down between people worldwide," McDonough said.

A number of priests and ministers from different churches participated in the ecumenical services. Lay members, including Michael Sciumbato, Rob Lanni and Pat Toomey and his wife, Pat, also participated at the Salt Lake program.

A sermon of the Rev. George F. Davich, pastor of St. Vincent's De Paul Catholic Church, helped set the tone for the Salt Lake service.

"You are part of the family of man. All of us are part of the family of man. Don't forget that," he said.

"Learn to love together. Learn to pray together. Learn to share together. Learn to laugh together and to rejoice together.

"There's only loving in the Kingdom of God. We are all God's people. Learn to love one another. Take that love back (to Ireland) with you," he said.

Glenda Shortt, who celebrated her 15th birthday Wednesday while in Salt Lake City; Paul Donnelly, also 15; and two counselors, Niall McElholm and Catherine Birney, all expressed appreciation for the opportunity to visit Utah.

A teacher in a primary Catholic school in Omagh, McElholm, 30, said he is impressed with the genuine hospitality shown by host families and financial and other efforts made by Utahns.

The project is helping to foster understanding between not only individuals but entire communities, McElholm said.

To Birney the Ulster Project helps to engender respect for people as people rather than putting them into classes or other categories.