Last night the Clonard-Fitzroy Fellowship screened the acclaimed documentary 14 Days. Billed by Fitzroy’s Rev Steve Stockman as ‘the best sermon you’ll ever watch,’ it traces the tragic and traumatic events of two weeks in March 1988 – but points to redemption through the story of Redemptorist priest Fr Alec Reid of Clonard Monastery.
The Clonard-Fitzroy event included remarks beforehand by Belfast Lord Mayor Máirtín Ó Muilleoir, Ed Petersen of the Clonard-Fitzroy Fellowship, Fr Peter Burns of the Redemptorists, former Fitzroy minister Rev Ken Newell, and film directors Dermot Lavery and Jonathan Golden.
The directors explained that in making the film, they wished to ‘add to the collective pool of wisdom’ about how ‘ordinary’ people like Fr Reid responded to the violence of the Troubles in extraordinary ways.
They recognized that making documentaries about the Troubles risks re-traumatizing people who lived through the events. But they said that they felt a greater weight of responsibility to tell the story that they discovered in their work: a story of hope in the midst of some of Northern Ireland’s darkest days.
The evening was structured in such a way that all of the talking about the film was done before it was shown on the big screen. Stockman explained that this was to provide a quiet space for reflection after viewing the film.
Those of us who had seen the film on the BBC back in March knew it does not make for comfortable viewing. The emotions stirred by reliving those days are still raw for many people. And it’s not easy to watch as Reid explains how he tried to save the lives of the soldiers, yet still seems to carry a burden about being unable to do so.
In that quiet space when the documentary finished, Newell prayed and spoke to those gathered. Newell suggested that what this ‘best sermon you’ll ever watch’ does is prompt us to ask what we, as Christians, are doing to build a peaceful, better future on this island.
Newell said that if we listened, we would hear God communicating with each one of us just what it is we can do. He said that’s what Fr Reid, known and loved by many of those who were present, had done: he listened to what God had to say and answered ‘yes.’
In Fr Reid’s days at Clonard, saying ‘yes’ meant meeting daily challenges, taking small steps, and persisting in prayer and good works even at what seemed the most hopeless of times. ‘Results’ did not come straightaway, not in Fr Reid’s efforts to facilitate secret political talks or to model a different, peaceful way of interacting with those others would consider ‘enemies.’
These are pertinent reminders for the week that’s in it, between ongoing debates about the Haass Talks, the Attorney General’s proposal for what would be an effective ‘amnesty’ for Troubles-related prosecutions, and revelations about the Military Reaction Force’s killings of unarmed civilians.
These too are difficult times and our collective failure to face our past together prevents us from moving forward together. Newell suggested that this is not a time when Christians should fail to listen for that voice, or fail to heed it. He left everyone with this question, poignant in the aftermath of the film:
What can we do to say ‘yes?’