Ecumenical Service of Gratitude for Fr Alec Reid – Tues 26 November in Clonard: Honouring a man who did not ‘Walk by on the Other Side’

fitzroy14daysThe passing of Fr Alec Reid, the Redemptorist priest from Belfast’s Clonard Monastery who played such a seminal role in the Northern Ireland peace process, will be remembered with an ‘Ecumenical Service of Gratitude’ on Tuesday 26 November at 7.30 pm in Clonard.

Fr Reid’s funeral mass will be at noon on Wednesday 27 November in Clonard. His body will lie in repose in Clonard from 4.00 pm today.

Just two days before his death, the Clonard-Fitzroy Fellowship screened the documentary 14 Days, which profiles the work of Fr Reid.

I blogged about the event on Thursday evening, so I had already been reflecting on Fr Reid’s example when news came of his death on Friday morning.

I also described the screening of 14 Days on Friday’s edition of Inside Politics, which you can listen to here.

On the radio and in my blog post I focussed on the words of Rev Ken Newell, the retired minister of Fitzroy Presbyterian, in the time for quiet reflection after the screening. Rev Newell expected each one gathered to be listening for the message of God for them. He thought God would be communicating to us what we can do now to build a better future on this island, and that each person should take responsibility for those tasks, however large or small they might be. As I wrote:

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.’

Our current political juncture, which includes the Haass/O’Sullivan Talks and Attorney General John Larkin’s suggestion of what amounts to an ‘amnesty’ for Troubles-related killings, is a challenging moment in the post-Troubles transition.

For me, Larkin’s idea of ‘giving up’ on prosecutions because it seems too difficult and too expensive is a massive abdication of our collective responsibility to victims and their families.

It is the equivalent of acting like the ‘great and the good’ who, in the biblical parable of the Good Samaritan, all ‘walk by on the other side’ of the street so as to avoid aiding a victim of violence.

But Larkin’s proposals do alert us that even if we strive, in good faith, to achieve justice through prosecutions – we will never know the full truth and we will never achieve justice for everyone. We will never be able to discover all the relevant information and some people will never disclose what happened.

Larkin’s other suggestion of opening up the archives for victims, journalists, and academics, a sort of ‘Freedom of Information Plus,’ also is not an adequate response to people’s desire for truth and justice.

 

  • First, while I agree the archives should be open, the proposal assumes that victims, journalists, and academics have resources like enough time and relevant expertise to examine the archives. Not all do.

 

  • Second, the proposal privatizes the emergence of truth in a way that will not satisfy everyone and that is not in line with what we know about good practice in other post-violence transitions. Yes, some victims and survivors say they will be content if they can only learn what happened to their loved ones. But in many other settings, it is the public acknowledgement and recognition of people’s suffering that is important and that helps people in society move forward together.

 

Like his amnesty proposal, Larkin’s archives proposal can be considered the equivalent of ‘walking by on the other side’ of the street, while victims suffer privately.

Over the last few days, many have recalled the iconic images of Fr Reid administering the last rites to the two British soldiers murdered at the IRA funeral in 1988. Like the Good Samaritan, Fr Reid did not walk by on the other side.

I expect the ecumenical service of gratitude will also encourage us to resist the temptation to ‘walk by on the other side.’

At the screening of 14 Days, Fr Peter Burns of the Redemptorist Order shared the words of another priest who worked closely with Fr Reid during the Troubles, and who continues his involvement in the Clonard-Fitzroy Fellowship: Fr Gerry Reynolds.

Fr Reynolds’ words resonate with those who wish to honour a man who did not ‘walk by on the other side.’ Those who want to find a way to cross the street, together:

The churches have nothing but riches for one another. They share a common mission. And the only way forward is to walk together.

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