Extract from the homily by
the Most Rev Gerard Clifford
Auxiliary Bishop of Armagh
to mark the 25th. Anniversary of the death of Charles Armstrong.
St. Patrick’s Church, Crossmaglen 12th. August, 2006
We gather this evening to pray for the late Charles Armstrong and all those who have disappeared without trace during the so- called ‘troubles’ in Northern Ireland. Every year there is a Mass in Armagh to remember the disappeared and to pray that their bodies may be found so that they may be given a proper Christian burial.
To date six bodies have been recovered; that of Eamon Molloy whose remains were left in a coffin in Faughart graveyard in May 1999. The remains of 23 year old Brian McKinney and 17 year old John McClory, murdered in 1978, were found in Co. Monaghan in September1999. In 2003 the body of Jean McConville was found by walkers at Shelling Hill on Templetown beach in Cooley. In 1981 Eugene Simmons went missing in Castlewellan, Co Down. His body was found in Dundalk May, 1984. Gareth O’Connor went missing on 11th May 2003. Body recovered June 2005.
Year after year the families of the other missing men meet in Armagh to pray for their loved ones but also to draw attention to the fact that more should be done to help those who have been bereaved and to appeal for help to identify the location of the bodies. Tonight we pray for Charlie Armstrong who went missing on his way to the Church in 1981 and we pray for Gerard Evans, also a local man, who went missing in March 1979.
Every year as we gather in Armagh on Palm Sunday for this special Mass we are reminded of Christ’s own death and Resurrection. The Gospel story tells of Joseph of Aramathea, a prominent member of the Jewish Supreme Council, coming to Pilate and asking for the body of Jesus. Pilate granted the request. We are then told that Joseph of Aramathea, an upright and virtuous man, bought a shroud, took the body of Jesus from the Cross, wrapped the body in the shroud and laid it in the tomb which had been hewn out of the rock. Then we are told that Mary of Magdala and Mary the mother of Joset were watching and noted where he was laid. It was the most natural thing in the world. They took note of his resting place. It was a question of basic respect and reverence for the dead.
Today the families of Charlie Armstrong and Gerard Evans ask for nothing more, just the return of the body of their loved one so that they can be buried with respect and dignity.
Over the years of the ‘troubles’ much has happened that has brought sadness, death and bereavement to many. Over those years many brutal and unjust things happened. Today I believe we have moved on. The Good Friday Agreement has begun to chart a way forward for peace and justice for all. We are in a new situation. The days of darkness hopefully are a thing of the past. We talk of the Good Friday Agreement. Good Friday – the darkest day in the Church’s year but also a day when we look beyond Christ’s death and burial to his Resurrection. The day itself has seeds of new beginnings, new hopes, new promises.
The families of the disappeared have had their own Good Fridays – the loss of a loved one, no farewells, no goodbyes and no reasons given. We can only guess the anguish and distress these families have felt over the years. The sense of isolation, of being marginalized in a tightly knit community, the sense of being abandoned by friends and neighbours. It’s a frightening panorama; people afraid to talk, people not wanting to get involved. It’s a nightmare that only those who have experienced it can fully understand.
That was the past. The past is gone. Thankfully we have moved on. We are now in a new situation. Two Commissioners have been appointed to head up the search for the disappeared, one in Dublin, Frank Murray, former secretary to the Government, the other in Belfast, Ken Bloomfield, former head of the Northern Ireland Civil Service. A forensic scientist skilled in the work of searching for missing people has been engaged to bring further expertise to this search. There is also a support team with specialist knowledge and expertise in this area. It is all moving in the right direction. But no matter how expert people are they need information.. Somebody, somewhere may have information that could help. My plea to you tonight is to make that information available.
The late Fr. Denis Faul has over the years worked tirelessly to help recover the bodies of the disappeared. It was his dying wish that the bodies would be found and returned to their loved ones. Somebody, somewhere may have the information that could bring closure to the sadness and distress of these families. Somebody may have the information to bring the searches to an end. My appeal tonight is to anyone with information, however insignificant it may seem, to communicate that.
Tonight we pray for Charlie Armstrong and Gerard Evans. We pray for their families and we pray for an end to the restless searching. May they and the others who have disappeared without trace rest in peace.