“THE DRUMCREE STAND-OFF”
MASS IN ST. JOHN’S CHURCH, PORTADOWN
HOMILY BY CARDINAL SEAN BRADY
12 JULY 1998
“What must I do to possess eternal life?” This question which the lawyer put to Jesus is an important one. It is the sort of question that must occur to everyone at some stage. The lawyer believes there is such a thing as eternal life, that death is not the end. He believes that eternal life is something good and desirable, something which he wants very much for himself because otherwise he knows he won’t be happy. Finally he realises that there is a connection, a vital connection, between what we do in this life and how we will be in the next life. Jesus takes the lawyer’s question seriously and he helps him to find the answer to his question. He says: “You are a lawyer, you have studied, what do you read in your textbooks?” and the lawyer tells him “Love your God with all your heart and love your neighbour as yourself”. It is a question of building and establishing good relationships with one’s God and with one’s neighbour.
In the Bible they had a word for that sort of reality – good relationships – they called it ‘Peace’. And the work of building the good relationships was called ‘peacemaking’. Jesus Christ is the true peacemaker. He has been called the cornerstone who unites two great walls coming from different directions – the Jews and the Gentiles. He made one church out of those peoples – the believing people of the Jews and the believing people of the Gentiles. Two believing peoples can have their differences. They can have different beliefs and different traditions but they can also have much in common. They have hurts and fears and hopes that are the same. Jesus brought peace because he broke down barriers. He brought forgiveness and he called people to repentance.
Peace is about more than the absence of war of course. It is about more than the lifting of the siege. Getting rid of the fear and the threat, that is indeed only the first step.
Since Sunday last an atmosphere of fear has been growing in this community. People are frightened and uncertain about the next few days. What a contrast to the spirit of hope which had been evident in the previous weeks. Many were looking forward to a future together based on the principles of dialogue, mutual respect, equality and partnership.
During the past week we have seen the pain and the hurt experienced by so many people in the Catholic community. Some have been intimidated out of their homes, others have been denied access to and from their homes by protesters, whole areas have been ravaged by acts of violence. I condemn this violence and intimidation, the burnings, the physical and verbal abuse which has, and continues to be directed, against sections of the community.
I am sure that the majority of you voted ‘Yes’ in the Referendum. You voted for things like: equality and mutual trust, reconciliation and tolerance and respect. You voted for the protection of the rights of everybody. These are the basis of a real and lasting peace. The implementation of the Good Friday Agreement, the establishment of all those things would in fact be the nuts and bolts of good relationships between neighbour and neighbour. You voted ‘Yes’ for the Agreement, despite the many hurts which you, as a community, have suffered down through the years. Despite the fact that people like Michael McGoldrick, Robert Hamill and Adrian Lamph have been killed, violently. Despite the hurt of marches being pushed down the road against the will of the residents. You voted ‘Yes’ despite your many fears, the fears that once again your views might be disregarded. You voted ‘Yes’ because you believe you have the power to forgive and to grow and to heal, and you are right. And so we have this new situation which gives rise to new hopes and to new possibilities.
The Good Friday Agreement commits us all to respect the rights of others. One of the basic rights is for people to have their own culture and to express their culture. Since this is so, I can understand how many Orange people feel genuinely hurt and puzzled as to why a march back from a Church service can pose such difficulties to some people. I think the answer to this question lies in part in the fears and resentments of Catholics which I have already mentioned. It is also due to their sense of exclusion from the centre of Portadown.
We all must recognise that we have responsibility not only to ourselves and to our own community but also to the wider community. It has to be recognised that there can be no lasting settlement to our differences, not only in Portadown but in Northern Ireland, without taking account of the feelings and experiences of those of different views to our own.
The problems over marches are a symptom of the fact that Catholics often do not believe that they, their culture or their religion, are respected in Portadown, however rich many personal relationships across the divide are. I think that it is in that context that many resent an Orange march going through, what is mainly a Nationalist area.
I would appeal to all to try and understand to try and understand the pains and hurts of the other community. We Catholics and Protestants are not actually that very different from each other. We all have families, we all have hopes and fears for the future. We all suffer from our divisions and from the dreadful images that these portray of Christians fighting each other in our country.
There is a story told of a Nationalist in Portadown who dreamt that he was eavesdropping at a barricade on the conversation of three Orangemen. He expected to find them debating the pros and cons of their situation. Instead he found them talking about their grandsons’ delight at the goal scored by Ronaldo the previous night. He remembered that he had seen the same joy in his own grandson’s face.
We can only resolve our problems in Portadown by developing a new relationship between Catholics and Protestants, Nationalists and Unionists. To do that we need to meet and to dialogue with each other and to address the issue of respect for all our different cultures but especially the exclusion that Catholics experience in Portadown and the fears of Orange people that their culture is being marginalised. The future lies in a more mature society in which we can respect each other’s differences. In that new respectful relationship we will no longer have problems over marches or over Catholic safety in Portadown.
The hopes of all are that a means can be found of resolving this problem, not just for this year but on a longer term basis. Limiting the discussions solely to conflicting rights has not succeeded in the past. It is unlikely to do so now. Building new relationships of mutual trust and mutual respect would be a more helpful approach. Transforming old relationships into new ones is never easy. It takes time and effort. It means going the extra mile to listen to each other’s stories and experiences. It means hearing the hurt and feeling something of the pain of the other person.
Of course it is much easier to dub both sides as intransigent, in a holier than thou attitude. But that approach dispenses one from investing the time and the effort required to address these difficult issues. The work of reconciliation is slow and painstaking. It is always a tough challenge.
The command of Jesus to love your neighbour as yourself is another tough challenge. We are all called to be Good Samaritans to those who are being wounded in the conflicts of life. We have to realise that we ourselves have often been hurt and are in need of the healing of a Good Samaritan. Jesus held up the Good Samaritan as an outstanding example of someone who built good relationships. He didn’t stop to ask if the wounded man was a Samaritan or a Jew. He didn’t cross over to the other side of the road to try and duck the problem. He saw the man who was hurt, he saw his wounds and he had pity on him.
In situations of conflict Jesus is the Good Samaritan, the cornerstone who unites two walls and is our model. His is the way of active non-violence. He does not leave us on our own. He guides us with the light of his truth and helps us to grow in our abilities to face difficult situations. Be not afraid he will give us the strength we need.
And so, I appeal to all this weekend to act peacefully and with dignity. To all those who feel they have to protest this weekend I say to stop for a moment and consider carefully, very carefully, how they intend to register that protest. Good intentions and declarations that protests will be peaceful can easily be forgotten or pushed aside when emotions run high.
I appeal to all to act responsibly and do not set at risk what has already been achieved on the road to the establishment of a genuine and lasting peace. I appeal to all to be active peacemakers particularly this weekend by contacting friends and neighbours and acquaintances and assuring them that the intentions are good and the friendships will endure.
Jesus has asked us to celebrate Mass in memory of him.
We come together to remember Jesus and especially His love for us. Jesus came on Earth to reveal to us God’s love for each and everyone of us – God’s love for us is always the same. Nothing can separate us from the love of Christ. We are always in God’s love and in God’s care.
That is a very reassuring thought. Especially:
when we are afraid.
when we feel threatened
when we feel isolated and lonely, cut off and hemmed in.
We are always in God’s loving care. We are always in God’s hands. Jesus stays with us in the Blessed sacrament to reassure us of that.
Behold I am with you always, even to the end of time…….