6 APRIL 2011

My dear friends,

We gather today to pay our respects to Constable Ronan Kerr.  We have prayed that Ronan will know the peace of God’s eternal love in the home that Jesus has prepared for him. We are here to sympathise with his mother Nuala, his sister Darina and brothers Aaron and Cathir.  May you find comfort and strength in Christ’s promise that one day you shall see Ronan again and enjoy his friendship and love.

May you also be helped and consoled by the presence of this congregation – representing as it does, so many strata of society, civil and religious alike.  May the support and admiration, expressed for Ronan and for all of you, at national and international level, over these days, ease the burden of grief and sorrow which you feel at this time.

Fifteen years ago, almost to the day – 9 April 1996, I had the privilege of confirming Ronan here in this Church.  He took the name Paul, in honour of the Apostle Paul, as his Confirmation name. The same Paul who said that “nothing can come between us and the love of God, made visible in Christ Jesus”.  The same Paul who said that “God co-operates with all those who love Him by turning everything to their good” (Rms.8:28).   That is the challenge now for all of us who remain.  To co-operate with God in transforming the evil of Ronan’s murder into the good that Ronan’s life represents.

Guided by the Spirit of the living God, Ronan proceeded on the journey of life.   He went from here to Omagh CBS and to university.  He did so many other things as well.  He played Gaelic games; he became a respected young man in the community.  As so many of his family and friends have testified in recent days he was a person who was happy, friendly and concerned for the welfare of others. Then the opportunity came his way to play his part in building the peace.  He was offered the possibility of joining the PSNI, a profession charged with the safety, welfare and protection of the rights of all in our society.  Imbued with the family spirit of public service Ronan took that opportunity.  Of course he knew the risks involved but one of the gifts he received on the day of his Confirmation was courage.

Ronan Kerr was obviously a man of exceptional courage. Today I pay tribute to the courage, and noble ideals of people who work in the public service – in the Police Service, in the Health Service; and in the Fire and Rescue Service and many others.  They deserve our gratitude and our support. We offer that to them today with admiration and respect. You are the protectors of our safety and the guardians of our peace.  Guard our peace carefully for the well-being of society depends on your professionalism, integrity and dedication.  

Unfortunately there are some people who do not believe that Ronan should have joined the PSNI.  They have a right to hold that view. But the freedom to hold that view also brings with it a great responsibility. It brings the duty to respect the will of the overwhelming majority of the people.   And the people have said no, never again, to the evil and futility of violence. They have said an empathetic no to the murder and mayhem of the past. Let there be no doubt that the killing of Ronan Kerr, was totally unjustified.  It was an evil deed, an offence against God and a complete rejection of the belief that human life is sacred.

There have been many defining moments in the ongoing journey towards reconciliation and peace.  No doubt there will be many more.   That is the nature of a process. But today, as we honour the courage of this valiant young man, may we all resolve to make this a defining moment in our own lives. We must never become complacent about choosing good and rejecting evil. Let us resolve to do everything in our power, to bring about the brighter future which the young people of this land deserve.

Of course there is now a whole generation of young people who have no memory of the troubles and the sufferings of the past. We should resist the temptation to glamorise the dreadful pain and sorrow of that past.  Parents and grandparents, I beg you, plead with your children and with your grandchildren, not to get involved with violence.  Never let them be deceived by those who say that Ireland will be united or the Union made more secure by war.  They are wrong.  It is an illusion. Violence has nothing, absolutely nothing, to offer except misery and destruction. Choose life, I say, choose goodness, choose peace. That is what God is asking of you. That is what the people of all traditions have been saying to all of us, loud and clear, since the moment of Ronan’s tragic death on Saturday last.   “We do not want this”. “You do not act in our name”. In God’s name stop – and stop now!

The presence of so many politicians here today is very much appreciated.  Your united and decisive response to Ronan’s death has given us all great inspiration and hope.  I believe that Ronan would have been very proud to see political leaders united with such determination to honour and uphold the peace which he gave his life to preserve.  Many believe and sincerely hope that a better future is possible for all.  Standing shoulder to shoulder together now is the surest way of overcoming those who would rob us, and future generations, of that hope.

The widespread expression of disgust and the rejection of violence in recent days – not just in Beragh and Omagh – but throughout the length and breadth of this land, and indeed further afield, strengthen the hope of us all.

Sometimes, however, condemnation and rejection are not enough to free hearts and minds held captive by hatred and bitterness.  That is a task to which only the power of the Spirit of the Risen Christ is equal.  He has conquered sin and death so that life and peace and harmony might flourish.  That process of transformation and change is still in progress.  May the memory of Ronan Paul Kerr and the dignified witness of his grieving mother Nuala and her family continue to guide and inspire our journey towards lasting justice, peace and reconciliation.  Then we will truly be able to say that his death has not been in vain.