I am sure that we can all say where we were when we heard the shocking news of the burning of your Church, the Church of the Immaculate Conception, on Monday morning last.

It is something that we are not likely to forget for a long time. Since then a lot of people have contacted me to express their sympathy. Those messages came from all parts of Ireland and from overseas. They were from people of many different religions. I know that the sympathy and support of your own neighbours here on Monday last were particularly impressive and have meant a lot to you. So this morning I wanted to come here to convey those messages of sympathy personally to you and to express once again my own sorrow.

So, I come to do that and to celebrate this Mass with you and for you. I want to be here to show my support for Father MacOscar and Father Gates and for all of you in this difficult time. I know well that you all feel numbed and saddened and sickened at what has happened as people feel numbed and shocked and saddened when they lose someone or something that is very dear to them. I recall coming here on Tuesday 4 March last for Confirmation. It was a very joyful occasion. I particularly enjoyed meeting so many of you afterwards here in the Community Centre. Yet on that occasion someone spoke to me of the fear and sense of isolation which Catholics feel here. It seems as if that person had a premonition of what was going to happen.

You, the priests and people of this parish have suffered a lot, far too much, at the hands of the arsonists and bombers over the years. Of course innocent people have suffered similar, indeed in some cases, far greater wrong and hurt and harm all over Northern Ireland as a result of the violence and destruction. Is there any point in asking why do people- act in this way? It has been suggested that your Church has been burned out of a sense of grievance, a grievance caused perhaps by acts of arson in other parts in recent times. Others have wondered why a Catholic Church belonging to a small, peaceful, and peace-loving people has been targeted? It is yet another example of bitter sectarian hatred and you are the innocent victims in this case. One thing is certain. Violence is not the way to resolve conflict. Neither the desecration of a Church in Mullavilly nor the attempted murder of a policewoman in Derry, is going to make any contribution to the resolution of our problems here in Northern Ireland. Desecration of the House of God is an insult to God in whose honour the Church was built. The destruction of a human life is at once an insult to God, the author of life and a terrible injustice to the person concerned.

As the clergy in Portadown said in response to the fire here in Mullavilly:
“Destruction and violence have caused pain and suffering for so many people in this community”.
Destruction and violence are never going to give us the respect and dignity which we all seek. The lesson is clear: violence is not the way to resolve conflict. There are other ways and better ways. Conflict can only be resolved satisfactorily when those in conflict begin to talk to one another and to understand one another more fully.

On Monday morning I noticed three things which had survived the fire: the Celtic cross on the gable end of the Church, the Trócaire boxes in the porch and the notice giving information about ACCORD, the Catholic Marriage Advisory Service, also in the porch.

The Cross is at once the sign of suffering and of hope. “We adore you O Christ and we bless you because by your holy cross you have redeemed the world” is a prayer which we often pray in Lent. To the world, the suffering and death of Christ on the cross appeared senseless and stupid. Yet God allowed that suffering and death to take place as the means of saving the world. In the same way, God has allowed this suffering and destruction to take place for some good purpose. Have no doubts about that. It is not clear to us at the moment but it has some good purpose.

‘Hail O Cross our only hope’ is the title of a hymn we often use in Holy Week. The Cross is the sign of hope because Christ, who died on the cross, rose from the dead. Dying he destroyed our death, rising he restored our life. By so doing he give us all the hope of victory over death.

The Cross here is a Celtic cross which is a symbol of the presence of the Irish Roman Catholic identity. Some people resent that presence. They fear it. They feel threatened by it. Let me assure them that they have nothing to fear from that presence. There is no need or cause to have it smashed. As for the other two items which survived the fire, the Trócaire boxes and the ACCORD notice are symbols of what is best in Irish Roman Catholic identity. Trócaire is as you know the name of the Catholic agency established by the Irish Bishops in 1973 to express the concerns of the Church for needs and problems of the people of the developing world. Trócaire is also the Irish word for ‘mercy’.

ACCORD on the other hand is a voluntary organisation in the Irish Church, a lay organisation, which aims to promote a better understanding of marriage. It helps people to prepare for marriage and to sustain their marriage. It offers help to people experiencing difficulties in marriage. So concern for the poor of the world, help for people in difficulties, those are the kind of things which the Irish Catholic Church cherishes dearly.

The Catholic Church like many Christian Churches is deeply involved in advancing the human dignity of those entrusted to its care by the Lord. It considers human dignity a Gospel value. That dignity cannot be despised without greatly offending the Creator. The struggle for advancement is only a threat to those who want to infringe the rights of others. It poses no threat to those who uphold values such as freedom and the right to profess one’s religion. The Church vigorously defends human rights. It considers them a necessary part of the recognition which must be given to the dignity of the human person, a person created in the image of God and redeemed by Christ.