St Eugene’s Cathedral
Francis Street, Derry
BT48 9AP | Tel: 028 7126 2302
There is no doubt now as to what we remember. The Saville tribunal overturned the Widgery whitewash, though it took 38 years for an acknowledgement of what the families always knew to be true. But though there are no doubts as to what happened, we can reflect on how we chose to remember what we recall with love.
What might Jesus have to say to us to help us remember the loss of life and the loss of innocence that happened that Sunday afternoon?
Firstly, Jesus said that the truth will set you free. Had truth been spoken that day and over the next weeks, so many lives and so much pain could have been spared. But when truth is killed to protect the system, the initial pain is multiplied. As with many other tragedies in our history, the system frustrated the desire of families to get at the truth. Blatant lies were told. Campaigners were sometimes seen as obsessive. That put huge pressure on mental health and on relationships. Institutions – whether in state, church or non-state actors – tell stories of their own heroism. And that makes it very hard for them to admit the presence of sin in their ranks. People are crushed when institutions or organisations lie to preserve their reputation. We still have much truth to discover about many other deaths. Many people still know truths that they are reluctant to share. We deserve an agreed system that creates space for the truth to be told about the thousands of unsolved murders. Drawing a line under the past always suits those who have much to hide. Today we remember those whose lives were lost by brutal violence – and all those who suffered terribly because of the lies that were told.
Secondly, we all know that finding peace with the past is very difficult. Many of our societies struggle to know how they remember unsavoury chapters in their history. How do we deal with slavery and colonialism, the treatment of those who offended against society's morals and the banishment of the poor to Australia for stealing food or a handkerchief?
"It takes a wise heart to look at the rubble of what has been shattered in the past and to make it into a foundation for the future"by Bishop McKeown
Thirdly, I was delighted when Bishop Andrew Forster said that he would join us this evening. His presence builds on the courageous work begun by Bishops Daly and Mehaffey some 40 years ago. They showed a way forward long before warring politicians would sit in the same room. That good work was built on when, at the publication of the Saville Report, Bishop Ken Good, Rev Norman Hamilton and Rev Paul Kingston received a warm welcome when they came to meet victims' families at the monument. The people of this city have shown great dignity and courage, often leading the way for the rest of Northern Ireland to follow. The suffering endured has borne the seed of solidarity and not merely of anger. The dignity of the people means that we do not look like a post-conflict society. Music and community have enabled the population to be known for its welcome and great stories. This is a city that can look back with compassion on the past. For it is a town that we all love so well. Phil Coulter's song doesn't forget the barbed wire and guns and the gas that hung on every breeze. But he knew the burning local pride and remembered his first pay and what he learned about life. Love changes everything and gives us eyes to see little beauties that brighten the dark. Bishop Andrew, your presence here invites us to pray together and work for a bright brand-new day.
Tonight, we remember those who died and those who were scarred by their deaths. But we also remember those who risked everything as they went to help the injured. Some are here tonight, and others died on that January afternoon. We remember heroism and strength of character in those who sought and fought for the truth. And, as people of faith, we remember that there is more grace and goodness in the world than sin and evil.
And we pray that those whom we have loved can be at peace and that we can find peace at their leaving us.
Together we can acknowledge the patronage of St Columba and use his words in prayer
"Be a bright light before me, O God, a guiding star above me. A smooth path below me a kindly shepherd behind me today, tonight and for ever."
May their souls and the souls of all the faithful departed…..
+ Donal McKeown
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