Last Friday, 28 January, Bishop Donal McKeown celebrated the 50th anniversary Mass of Remembrance for the victims of Bloody Sunday, in St Mary’s Church, Creggan, where he was joined by many families of the Bloody Sunday victims. Bishop Andrew Foster, Church of Ireland Bishop Derry and Raphoe, was also in attendance.
At the beginning of Mass, Bishop McKeown said, “We gather in St Mary’s Church where the funerals took place for those who died on that terrible day, 30 January 1972. On the following Wednesday 2 February, this church was packed and many thousands of us stood outside in a soft swirling mist and a storm of emotions. The shooting of 26 unarmed civilians in little more than 10 minutes – and the death of 14, including 6 who were under 18 years of age – was a trauma never to be forgotten. Tonight, we gather in faith as people have done here every year. In the Lord’s presence we are sensitive to where everybody is and to the still voice of God who speaks grace into pain and loss.”
During his homily, the Bishop of Derry said, “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? 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.”
Emphasising the need to continually build towards reconciliation, Bishop McKeown said, “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. If all we do with the past is to use it as a heap of angry stones to throw at other people, then we cannot build. Either we process the rubbish of the past and make it into life-giving compost – or it lies in the corner and benefits no-one. I hope that our celebrations this weekend will help us all to build a future full of hope for our young people and not nourish them on bitter anger that can only kills and destroy. A new society on the island needs big hearts. It will not be created by small minds.
“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.”
In conclusion, Bishop McKeown said, “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.”
To read this homily in full, click here.