Bishop of Limerick Brendan Leahy has urged the Irish public to make the centenary year of the 1916 Rising one that we dedicate to re-reading our history and healing our memories.
In his Homily at Mass in the Co. Limerick village of Bruree - where Éamon de Valera was schooled and served Mass – to celebrate World Day of Peace, Bishop Leahy said that the year ahead can allow us to walk through our turbulent political, social and ecclesial history together.
“What best motivates our remembering, memory and commemoration must be the hope that we can take some step forward that will mark the history lessons of the future. The context for such a step is the search across our island on several levels for how to face our past in a way that heals and releases us from situations of inner imprisonment.
“After 35 years of ‘the Troubles’ as well as recent years of painful revelations of corruption, abuse and lack of integrity, we search for how to reconcile and help heal our memories. “We know we need to find a way to be inclusive in our remembering; deep down we want to be able to draw close to one another in acknowledging the trauma that either we or others have lived through. In short, the context of the 1916 centenaries is one of learning to walk through our political, social and ecclesial history together.
“Having come through this terribly turbulent period, when great sins have been inflicted, it would be great if this year might be a year to explore how best to face that past in a way that heals, how to move from being indifferent to one another’s pain to being able to journey together positively.
“It will always be necessary to name the pain of the past but it is not always easy to hear or recognise sufficiently that pain in one another.
“While we can always draw lessons from our past, we have to be careful not to let ourselves be trapped in it or in our interpretation of it,” he said.
Continuing, Bishop Leahy noted the words of newly appointed DUP leader Arlene Foster as an example of how we can deal with the past.
“It was interesting to hear Arlene Foster, the newly appointed chief of the Democratic Unionist Party, speak of her desire to create a ‘more harmonious’ society in the North. She was almost killed at the age of 16 when the IRA tried to bomb her school bus to murder its driver, a part-time member of the security forces. There was also an attempt by the IRA to kill her police officer father. Yet, on her appointment as DUP leader she said that while the ‘Troubles have scarred Northern Ireland’s history we must not let them shape our future’.
“In the light of this year’s message from Pope Francis for the world day of peace, as we move towards commemorations of the 1916 Rising and the Battle of the Somme, perhaps we can take this opportunity to explore what steps we can take to create a more harmonious society, a more harmonious community, a more harmonious family life.
“We, too, as a nation have many scars but we too must not let them shape our future. It is time, in this Year of Mercy, for us to bring mercy to bear on our judgements and evaluations of situations both past and present to build a better future.
“It’s true that the big gestures of mercy are possible for those who are exceptional people. We can think of Gordon Wilson. But what about us in our everyday working out of painful situations together? Perhaps there is a way we can all enter into a logic of mercy that will guide our remembering, memory and commemorating.
“I am thinking of our tradition of making covenants (The 1912 ‘Ulster Covenant’) and oaths (The Fenian ‘oath’). Might we not this year decide to make a new covenant together – a pact of mercy, promising to enter a daily contract, as it were, in our re-reading of history together and painful situations that have scarred our lives.
He concluded, “To motivate our commemorations this year by stipulating a communal pact of mercy would be a valuable history lesson for the future.
In doing so, we would be moving from indifference to mercy as this year’s World Day of Peace message invites us to do. And we could take inspiration from Mary, the Mother of God, who knew how to ponder in her heart while proclaiming the mercy that extends from age to age.”