Fr Martin Magill: Twelfth Not Protestant Enough – Full Text of Irish News Article
Fr Martin Magill’s reflection in yesterday’s Irish News,“12th Not Protestant Enough,” generated significant chatter in other local media, online and in face-to-face conversations. While the Irish News is only available to subscribers online, his comments in the paper were picked up by the Belfast News Letter and the Slugger O’Toole blog.
Today, with kind permission, we are posting the full text of his article online.
Twelfth Not Protestant Enough: Fr Martin Magill
I HAVE always loved the Franciscan prayer which contains these words: “O, Divine Master, grant that I may not so much seek… to be understood as to understand; to be loved as to love…”
I would like to think that those words were in my mind and heart on Saturday as I cycled over to east Belfast to watch – – for the first time in my life – – the bands and the marchers on the Twelfth.
I wanted to bring an open mind in my desire to understand and to respect.
I appreciated the offer of company I had received the previous day so I would not be standing alone.
Various events had influenced my decision to go and watch this year.
Conversations with three young bandsmen in the course of the past year played their part, such as them explaining the difference between the bands and the loyal orders.
I had known nothing about the hiring of bands, the hours of practice, the band competitions, the drill and the uniforms, among other things.
And as a member of the Pioneer Association, their band’s strict no alcohol policy – – before the parade, on the parade or in uniform – – appealed to me.
The fact that I would be able to recognise some of the bandsmen helped, too – – I could no longer dismiss them as “them”.
But it was not an easy decision – – to go or to continue to ignore the Twelfth as I have done all of my life.
I was concerned that by going, I would give credence to what I had always believed to be an anti-Catholic, alcohol-fuelled triumphalist spectacle; a “bigotfest,” as some have described it.
Nor did I want to be seen to support the singing or playing of sectarian songs, and to give my blessing to a day which encouraged tribalism.
I had to re-think my approach when I heard about an Orangeman who had marched with his lodge during the day and was the mainstay at a fundraising event to rebuild the local Catholic church destroyed after a sectarian attack.
During the day, he celebrated his religious and civil liberties and in the evening, he was able to celebrate his Catholic neighbours’ right to the same.
Having spent some time in the east of the city in the company of two committed Christians of other denominations, on reflection, I could certainly find elements I enjoyed.
There was a lot visual stimulation – – from the variety and history of the banners to a wide range of different uniforms, which made for a feast of colour.
For the most part, as I watched the marchers, they seemed to be enjoying the day – – at a later point, I got a close look at the different symbols on a collarette.
There were touching moments when a marcher spotted someone he knew on the footpath and went over to embrace. I liked some of the music though I would have preferred less drum and more flute but I would have to say I admired the skill in playing together.
There was also the clearly social and family side to the spectacle. At this time of the day I noticed very little alcohol being consumed.
I then cycled towards the centre of town and walked along Dublin Road waiting for the full march to begin. I saw more alcohol being carried and consumed.
I chatted to two workers from Belfast City Council who were there to remove alcohol. I witnessed some alcohol being seized by a police officer though overall it seemed hit and miss.
I then cycled to Belfast South Methodist Church on Lisburn Road and was delighted to enjoy the company of its minister, the Rev David Campton.
I found David and the church volunteers very warm and welcoming – – to say nothing of the excellent coffee – – as I watched bands and marchers.
John Wesley had a saying, “Friends of all, enemies of none”, and it fitted the centre very well; agape being one of the Greek words for love. Bandsman, Orangeman, child, parent, young, old, Protestant, Catholic and no religion were all welcome there into the centre and its toilets were open to all. It was a great vantage point.
One of the issues Catholics have with the Twelfth is the disrespect shown by some bands to Catholics churches; I reflected how I would love those musicians to realise that the Catholics who worship God in Catholic churches were not their enemies.
I wondered what the marchers would make of republicans who know their flag, which is so dear to them and which will cover their coffin, is a daily challenge to make peace with their Orange brothers and sisters; I wondered what marchers and bandsmen would make of those republicans who sincerely want to address the issue of educational under-achievement among Protestant boys.
Having reflected on the parades and the Twelfth that I saw, my main observation is that it wasn’t truly Protestant enough for me.
One of the Orangemen I met told me he had carried a Bible in previous years but didn’t this year because he was afraid it would get wet. For me, this was a parable of what is missing in the Twelfth – – people living by the Word of God.
When I think of my Protestant friends and colleagues, I think of people who read and love the Bible and who by God’s grace model their lives on the life of Jesus.
The more these modern day disciples are central to the Twelfth celebrations, the more we all will experience grace and generosity – – and maybe even a day we all can celebrate.
Fr Martin Magill is parish priest of Sacred Heart parish in north Belfast. He is an organiser of the 4 Corners Festival which aims to encourage people out of their own ‘corners’ of Belfast and into contact with other parts of the city and people.