I will be speaking at Corrymeela’s Carafest on the afternoon of Sunday 1 April (yes, that is Easter Sunday) about ‘Friendship and Reconciliation for the Long Haul: Insights from the Life of Fr Gerry Reynolds.’
Over the last three years, I have had the privilege of researching Gerry’s biography (due for publication in 2019). In my talk, I will share some insights into how Gerry sustained himself in the challenging work of reconciliation. I will focus on two areas: his practices of prayer, and his commitment to friendships. Ultimately, I will be making a case that Gerry’s ministry of reconciliation would have been impossible without prayer and without friendship. I will also raise some questions about what his longing for shared Eucharist might teach us today. Shared Eucharist was an issue that was at the forefront of Gerry’s mind throughout his life.
I am convinced that Gerry saw the promotion of shared Eucharist as just as important as his peace ministry; indeed, he did not separate his convictions about shared Eucharist from his peace ministry. On 11 July 1983, shortly after he received news of his assignment to Clonard, Gerry wrote in his journal:
‘My mission in Belfast – to bring the Protestants to the Eucharist – to bring the Eucharist to the Protestants. God makes new heaven and earth through the Eucharist as he draws us to himself.’
I am certain Gerry’s words should not be understood here as a mission to convert Protestants to Catholicism; rather, at that point I think Gerry believed they should be allowed to partake of Eucharist in the Catholic Church just as they were – as Protestant Christian sisters and brothers.
Nowhere was the prohibition on shared Eucharist more painful for Gerry than in his strong friendships with Protestants, many of whom regularly joined him in prayer. Gerry’s desire for shared Eucharist was perhaps best expressed publicly through an initiative he helped start in 2010, ‘In Joyful Hope’. Here, Christians from all traditions visit each other’s Eucharistic or communion services, but follow their own churches’ teachings on communing or abstaining.
I hope my talk will provide those of us who want to continue Gerry’s work of reconciliation with some insights for reflection that will enable us – like Gerry – to stay committed to reconciliation, as he used to say: ‘for the long haul.’
I also will welcome comments from those attending who knew Fr Gerry – I will leave time for people to share their memories of him.