‘He saw a common well of untapped compassion and forgiveness’ – Mary McAleese at the Launch of One Man, One God: The Peace Ministry of Fr Alec Reid CSsR

One Man, One God: The Peace Ministry of Fr Alec Reid CSsR was launched on Tuesday at Clonard Monastery by former President Mary McAleese. The book chronicles Fr Reid’s incalculable contributions to the peace process on the island of Ireland, and explores how his Christian faith influenced and sustained him in his work. It was written by fellow Redemptorist Martin McKeever, a Belfast native and professor of moral theology in Rome, and published by Redemptorist Communications.

In her remarks at the launch, McAleese described Fr Reid’s (1931-2013) long and painstaking work, likening him to Sisyphus, rolling his stone back up a hill for all eternity. Yet, ‘he got up, like the Tipperary hurler he was, and took the pitch again.’

McAleese said that Fr Reid was sustained by ‘his faith in the Catholics and Protestants of Northern Ireland and the integrity of their prayers, and their will for peace.’ Despite the violence and mayhem of the Troubles, ‘he saw a common well of untapped compassion and forgiveness’ in the people, which convinced him that his efforts would not be in vain.

Patsy McGarry’s review of the book in the Irish Times covers many of the key aspects of Fr Reid’s involvement in the peace process, including his facilitation of the secret Hume-Adams talks. Fr Reid clung to the principle that dialogue must be inclusive at a time when talking with those considered associated with IRA was anathema.

As McAleese said:

‘In 1986, Alec’s views were regarded as bonkers. .. Today we hail him as the first to notice the green shoots [of peace] growing in the most unlikely of places.’

Describing how a few small seeds can after many years produce a vast field of bluebells, McAleese stressed that it is now our task to take forward his vision.

‘His legacy is that we make the peace work. … And we can be fuelled by awe that [from humble beginnings] human beings could have created something so beautiful and so wonderful.’

What I found powerful about McAleese’s remarks was how she conveyed the idea that at a very profound level, Fr Reid had faith in humanity – faith in us. That’s something to ponder when solutions to present problems seem far off.

Also speaking at the launch, McKeever described how the then provincial, Fr Michael Kelleher, had asked him to write the book. McKeever worked from Reid’s own papers as well as transcripts of two long interviews Kelleher had conducted with Reid before his death.

McKeever emphasised that Fr Reid’s faith was essential for sustaining him in his long years of dedication to his task:

‘We can tell the story of Alec Reid without talking about faith, but we can never understand Alec Reid and his ministry without understanding his faith.

… St Therese of Avila said that ‘prayer broadens the heart.’ … Alec Reid prayed a great deal, and God broadened that heart. But God did not take that space for himself – he gave it [that space] for those who were suffering.’

Kelleher concluded the launch by echoing McKeever’s emphasis on Fr Reid’s faith: ‘This isn’t the only book that will be written [detailing Reid’s role in the peace process] … but you’ll never understand Alec Reid unless you understand how he saw himself: as a servant of Christ.’

Kelleher read from a letter Gerry Adams wrote to the then rector at Clonard, Fr Kevin Browne, on 30 August 1994 – the date of the IRA ceasefire. Adams wrote: ‘without him [Fr Reid], we would not be opening up this potentially historic opportunity.’

I look forward to reading One Man, One God. It promises unique insights about how ‘potentially historic’ opportunities were realised.

(Photos from Clonard Monastery Facebook page)

Gladys is a Research Fellow in the Senator George J Mitchell Institute for Global Peace, Security and Justice at Queen’s University Belfast. She also blogs on religion and politics at www.gladysganiel.com