Fr Gerry Reynolds’ Anniversary & his 1994 Sermon on Forgiveness after the Ceasefires

I am writing a biography of Fr Gerry Reynolds, a Redemptorist who served 32 years in Belfast’s Clonard Monastery. His ministry encompassed some of the most difficult days of the Troubles; and he dedicated himself to praying and working for an end to the violence. So I am perhaps more aware than most that today is the third anniversary of his death. I also am aware that while I began the biography a few months before he died, it is … Read more

Faith beyond the Shadow of the Abuse Crisis: Review of Aidan Donaldson’s The Beatitudes of Pope Francis

There is no doubt that Pope Francis’ visit to Ireland has been overshadowed by the abuse crisis in the Catholic Church. On Radio Ulster’s Talkback discussion on the eve of the visit, presenter William Crawley strained to steer the conversation in any direction other than abuse. Slugger’s own Brian Walker focused on abuse in his post-visit analysis. And in my own reflections, I argued that the visit ‘had become an unofficial referendum on the Papal handling of clerical sexual abuse … Read more

Has ‘The Quiet Revolution of Pope Francis’ reached Ireland? Review of New Book by Gerry O’Hanlon

The Catholic Church in Ireland looks like it’s in trouble. It’s still reeling from the clerical abuse scandals that have shaken its foundations over the better part of two decades, and it’s struggling to cope with the challenges of the island’s extraordinarily rapid secularization. A new book by Fr Gerry O’Hanlon, The Quiet Revolution of Pope Francis: A Synodal Catholic Church in Ireland? (Messenger Publications, 2018), argues that there is hope that the Catholic Church can reform itself. When Francis became pope … Read more

Humanity in the midst of Brutality: Review of Martin Magill’s ‘The Poor Clares in Belfast, 1924-2012’

In 2012, the Poor Clares closed their monastery in North Belfast after 88 years in the city. As an enclosed order, it might have been expected that the nuns would have had little impact on the world outside their walls. Fr Martin Magill’s new book, The Poor Clares in Belfast, 1924-2012 (Shanway Press), tells a different story. The Poor Clares in Belfast explores how the nuns’ ministry of prayer, presence and listening endeared them to the local people. They were … Read more

Whatever Happened to the Good Friday Agreement? Review of Siobhán Fenton’s New Book

Siobhán Fenton’s somewhat misleadingly-titled new book, The Good Friday Agreement makes for sobering reading. The aim of the book is to take stock of how far Northern Ireland has come since the 1998 Agreement, making it less about the Agreement itself than it is about the failure to implement it. Indeed, several times throughout, Fenton observes that it is not the Agreement that has failed. Rather it is Northern Ireland’s politicians who have ‘failed the Agreement.’ The Good Friday Agreement … Read more

Inventing the Myth on the Eleventh Night: Review of Connal Parr’s Book on Ulster Protestantism

“What is distinctive of political Protestantism – its Orange marches, its flute bands, its lodge banners, its sectarian songs – is taken to be the sum of all cultural life in that community.” – Prof Arthur Aughey, quoted in Connal Parr, p. 15, Inventing the Myth We are on the eve of the Twelfth – usually considered the height of Ulster Protestant-Unionist-Loyalist cultural expression. But Aughey’s words should give us pause for thought. Aughey is quoted in Connal Parr’s widely … Read more

Review of Archbishop Eames’ Unfinished Search – Will Another Opportunity to Address the Past Slip through our Hands?

‘Despite attempts to revise or rewrite history, the complexities of the legacy of this period indicate, if nothing else, that to find a common ground for the future will be a more difficult task than bringing an end to violence. To win the peace in Northern Ireland is one thing. To make it last and to transform it into an accepted way of life is by far the greatest mountain to climb.’ — Archbishop Robin Eames, Unfinished Search, p. 136 Those … Read more

Beneath the Harp and Crown: Philip Orr Speaks ahead of the Premiere of his new play about UDR Veteran

‘Beneath the Harp and Crown,’ a new play by Philip Orr, premieres next week in four venues. The play was developed in collaboration with Decorum NI, a charity based support group for veterans of the security forces and their families who served during The Troubles in Northern Ireland. The play is billed as addressing the question, ‘Can a UDR veteran come to terms with his painful past?’ It is a one-man show performed by Brian Payne. There will be post-show … Read more

Did Religious Leaders Contribute to Conflict Transformation in Northern Ireland? Review of Nukhet Sandal’s New Book

Did religious leaders contribute to conflict transformation in Northern Ireland? It’s a question posed in a new book by Nukhet Sandal, assistant professor of political science at Ohio University, USA – and answered with a resounding ‘yes.’ In Religious Leaders and Conflict Transformation: Northern Ireland and Beyond (Cambridge University Press, 2017), Sandal paints an overwhelmingly positive picture of religious leaders’ efforts to contribute to peacebuilding during the Troubles and after the Good Friday Agreement. Sandal argues that religious leaders articulated … Read more

‘On behalf of churches, let me say sorry for the times we said to victims, “you must forgive.”’ – Rev Karen Sutheraman at the 4 Corners Festival

The 4 Corners Festival hosted a discussion last night about why churches have not done enough to promote peacebuilding and reconciliation since the Belfast Agreement – and what Christians can do to change that. During the question and answer part of the evening, Alan McBride, whose wife was killed in the Shankill bomb, asked a question about forgiveness. Rev Karen Sutheraman, pastor of the Down Community, responded in this way: ‘On behalf of churches, let me say sorry for the … Read more

‘The Loyalism of 1994-1998 Needs to be the Standard for the Present’: 4 Corners Festival Opens with Panel in St Michael’s on the Shankill

The 4 Corners Festival opened last night with a panel discussion in St Michael’s church hall on the Shankill,  billed as ‘20 Years On: A Conflict Frozen in Time?’ In light of the upcoming 20th anniversary of the Belfast Agreement, it promised to reflect on how loyalism contributed to peacebuilding in the past – and to ask how loyalism might move forward into the future. Journalist Barney Rowan summed up the evening as the discussion was winding down: ‘The loyalism … Read more

‘… We have politics that is almost devoid of consistent Christian or gospel values, yet which is endorsed by thousands of Christian people’ – Rev Norman Hamilton

‘One might even be tempted to say that we have politics that is almost devoid of consistent Christian or gospel values, yet which is endorsed by thousands of Christian people’ – Rev Norman Hamilton Those are strong and sobering words from Rev Norman Hamilton, a former Moderator of the Presbyterian Church in Ireland and Convenor of the church’s Council for Public Affairs, speaking at a prayer breakfast last week in advance of Belfast’s 4 Corners Festival (1-11 February). With talks … Read more

Courage of Kingsmills Victims Defied Sectarian Divide

Reconciliation statue Photo by Amanda Slater

Much ink has been spilled about the sorry Barry McElduff/Kingsmills loaf saga. Susan McKay’s analysis in Tuesday’s Irish Times is one of the most insightful, but bleak, contributions. It’s worth reading her full text, which brings her to this conclusion: The absence of reconciliation has never been more starkly apparent, and as usual, those most hurt in the past are hurt again. One paragraph in McKay’s article jumped out for me, because though tragic, it demonstrated for me that there … Read more

New Books for the New Year from Ó Tuama; Deeds and McManus

With a New Year comes new beginnings – or so the tyranny of the New Year’s Resolutions industry would have us believe. Resolutions can be a source of frustration rather than liberation, but there are few among us who do not give at least some pause for thought on how we might live better in the year ahead. Two new books by some of our most gifted local Christian writers provide tools for living better in the New Year: Daily … Read more

Enniskillen 30 Years On: Geraldine Smyth on Forgiveness and Mercy in the Public Square

An article by Joe Humphreys in today’s Irish Times marking the 30th anniversary of the Enniskillen bomb bears the headline: ‘Thirty years after Enniskillen: Can forgiveness transcend terrorist atrocities?’ Humphreys highlights the well-known words of forgiveness offered in the bomb’s immediate aftermath by Gordon Wilson, whose daughter Marie died in the atrocity. He also recognizes the words of forgiveness offered this week by Stephen Ross, who was severely injured in the bomb. Humphreys challenges us by asking: were these men right to forgive? … Read more

Beyond the Abuse Scandals? Review of Maher and O’Brien’s ‘Tracing the Cultural Legacy of Irish Catholicism’

There is much insightful reading in a new collection of essays edited by Eamon Maher and Eugene O’Brien, Tracing the Cultural Legacy of Irish Catholicism: From Galway to Cloyne and Beyond (Manchester University Press, 2017). Maher, who lectures in Humanities at the Institute of Technology, Tallaght, has co-edited a number of collections on Irish Catholicism in recent years – all of which have made a valuable contribution in conversations about the future of the Church. Titles such as Contemporary Catholicism … Read more

‘Victims of the Peace’ – Lessons from David Bolton’s ‘Conflict, Peace and Mental Health’

If there is one book that should be required reading for our MLAs, it is David Bolton’s Conflict, Peace and Mental Health: Addressing the Consequences of Conflict and Trauma in Northern Ireland, published this year by Manchester University Press. The book is a timely reminder that while the Assembly remains suspended and political progress remains stalled, victims and survivors of violence continue to live with the consequences of the past.  Bolton eloquently describes their plight (p. 3): In Ireland, whilst … Read more

Jonathan Powell on Ending Conflicts – Insights on Leadership

Jonathan Powell, the British Government’s chief negotiator on Northern Ireland under Prime Minister Tony Blair (1997-2007), joined Prof Richard English Monday for a conversation on ‘Ending Conflicts’ at the Senator George J Mitchell Institute for Global Peace, Security and Justice at Queen’s. Powell is now director of Inter/Mediate, a charity he founded in 2011 to work on conflict resolution around the world, and an Honorary Professor in the Mitchell Institute. Inter/Mediate is currently helping to facilitate negotiations in ten locations. … Read more

Denis Bradley: The Church Needs a Consultation of the Unfaithful

Writing in today’s Irish News, former priest Denis Bradley argues that what the Catholic Church needs to renew itself is a ‘consultation of the unfaithful.’ Reflecting on how aging priests, a lack of vocations, and vows of celibacy are symptomatic of a deeper malaise, Bradley rightly acknowledges that in recent years the Church has attempted a number of ‘listening exercises’ in an effort to understand what the Holy Spirit is saying through the church. The fact that the so-called ‘institutional’ … Read more

Review of One Man, One God: The Peace Ministry of Fr Alec Reid

For many years the labours that constituted Fr Alec Reid’s (1931-2013) life work remained behind closed doors. It had to be that way: what he was doing was much too sensitive to be public knowledge. We have known for some time that Reid instigated secret talks that helped kick-start the Northern Ireland peace process. He also had a hand in drafting documents that would become a basis for political negotiations and ultimately the Belfast/Good Friday Agreement.   A new book … Read more