Eucharist and Reconciliation

The struggle to live as universal brother

The most obvious struggle in Northern Ireland is the political one between the conflicting identities and allegiances of the rival communities. But there is another struggle which is a crucial for everyone. It is the spiritual struggle in ourselves - the conflict between faith and culture, between personal conscience and loyalty to the group we belong to. Not that they are necessarily in conflict. But it is true that:

"The line which divides right from wrong, good from evil, does not run between the conflict partners. Right and wrong are found on both sides even though often in radically unequal degrees " (Jean and Hildegard Goss-Mayr)

Here are some of my learning experiences:

1.One evening in July 1985, with little enthusiasm, I joined a small group of Catholics and Protestants for a Bible study in Clonard Monastery. Our text was 2Corinthians 5.11/21. This line jumped out at me:

"God was in Christ reconciling the world to himself, not holding anyone's faults against them, but entrusting to us the message of reconciliation ".

God does not hold their faults against anyone; but I realised that every time I told the stories about the other side, I did so holding their faults against them, as if we were without sin. My relationship with the Shankhill people (the people of the other side) began to change radically that evening.

2.One long summer's day in 1990, the IRA shot dead two RUC policemen on thebeat in the centre of Belfast. A Dominican sister rang me late that evening. "Whatare you going to say? What are you going to do about what happened to-day?"

At that stage I was not going to do anything or say anything. Culture had conditioned me not to be that moved by the death of a policeman.

I did not say anything publicly. But as night fell I brought a cross I treasured and left it at the place where the two men were shot. The Dominican sister and her companions brought flowers and lights. We prayed together there. A few men came out of a nearby pub. At first they shouted curses on the dead policemen but then one of them changed suddenly and joined us in prayer. Two days later I went to a murdered policeman's funeral for the first time after 7 years in Belfast.

3.In the mid-summer of 1994 the IRA abducted a local woman who was one of their volunteers and shot her dead as an informer. She lived 100 metres from Clonard Monastery.Would I walk in the procession as the body of the "informer" was brought from her home to the parish church for the funeral Mass? Faith said "yes".But it was a lonely road. There was little company.