WHAT a month April has turned out to be! As well as the usual downpours associated with the first days of Spring we here in our little province have been showered with even more killings and bombings.
First of all the city of Derry was brought to its knees with the deaths of policemen and civilians and members of the IRA. The Bishop of the diocese, Bishop Edward Daly, spoke out strongly in his condemnation of these killings. He also condemned the Irish Republican Army for their military style funerals and their explicit use and show of weaponry on church property. He said this destroyed the sacredness of the Church, its grounds, and it lessenec the religious value attached to a christian burial.
He then came under attack from the IRA for daring to speak out so forcibly against them, and also because as the Bishop with the backing of his priests he decided not to allow coffins of IRA members into the Church during their requiem mass. He had hoped by taking this decision to remove any form of para-military presence from church grounds.
As one eminent priest in the diocese put it: "It's pointless closing the stable door after the horse has bolted." The explanation for this comment lies in the fact that the decision made by the Bishop is one that should have been taken many years ago and that all military activity both on the part of the IRA and the police should have been banned within the vicinity of the Church.
Anyhow we will have to wait and see what will happen in the future!
The next episode of our Northern history sees focus of attention shift diocese from Derry to Down and Connor. For these past weeks preparation has been going on in St Peter's in the Lower Falls Road, Belfast. A Passion Play going under the title of Those Three Days — the death and resurrection of Christ — is being enacted in the cathedral. The play which includes both professional and amataur talent has a cast of over 100 people.
Bishop Cahal Daly — no relation to Edward — saw this as an opportunity of building relationships in the cathedral parish by encouraging active involvement of parishioners in a constructive and dramatic way.
The people of the Lower Falls area, especially those in Divis Flats, have suffered much deprivation and humiliation over those past 18 years, yet they have remained strong in their faith, and so when the call for help was voiced they rallied to the cause. The children of the parish loved it — it gave them a chance to act — the older women made the costumes, and men who would normally have been on the dole and had lost any sense of job satisfaction helped build and decorate the stage by working hand in hand with Director, Producer and such stars as Cyril Cusack and Roma Tumelty.
The ordinary punters bought the tickets for the seven-night performance every bit as fast as U2 tickets which had gone on sale that same week. In fact the demand was so great an extra performance had to be arranged.
The Bishop being a man of insight and vision also sought a way of involving other christian denominations in a service of unity through this Passion Play. So the week preceeding the Passion Play, the cross used as a centrepiece, was carried by an ecumenical group of young people representing the whole religious divide from the pro-cathedral in Dublin to the steps of St Anne's Church of Ireland cathedral in Belfast where the young people met up with the Church of Ireland Bishop and our own Bishop Daly. They then, with a crowd of over 2,000 people carried the cross across the religious divide from St Anne's to St Peter's cathedral on the Lower Falls in Belfast. It was a magnificent display of unity and faith in Christ — it was the living out of the cross borne by all christians seeking honesty and truth. That was Sunday!
The next day the cathedral priests anointed two young soldiers, blown to bits by an IRA bomb attack, less than 100 yards from the cathedral doors. A lot of people stood and cried with sorrow and shame. Two women ran out of the little second-hand shop and draped the dead and wounded in white sheets. A real Passion Play was enacted. I could not help but think of the words quoted by Bishop Daly — words immortalised by the playright Sean O'Casey "Sacred Heart of Jesus take away our murderin' hate And grant us your everlasting love."
The week ended with a coffin being shuffled in and out of a house whilst police and people clashed and fought with each other. The man being buried was a Catholic — a reputed member of the IRA — who was shot in his home by the outlawed protestant Ulster Volunteer Force. The conflict between the mourners and police developed because the police force feared that the IRA would use the occassion to stage an illegal para-military style funeral. The IRA said that they wanted to bury their dead with dignity.
All I can say is that I'm not looking forward tothe months ahead — God knows how many more lives will be lost senselessly in this country — how many more corpses and crosses will have to be carried before a resurrection.