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Bishop of Clogher’s Address on the 25th Anniversary of the Enniskillen Bombing

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Added on 08/11/2012

The Rt Revd John McDowellThe Bishop of Clogher’s Address at a Service of Community Remembrance and Reflection on the 25th Anniversary of the Enniskillen Bombing at St Macartin’s Cathedral, Enniskillen

The Bishop of Clogher, The Rt Revd John McDowell, will give the address at a Service of Community Remembrance and Reflection on the 25th Anniversary of the Enniskillen Bombing at St Macartin’s Cathedral, Enniskillen, today, Thursday 8 November 2012. The service which begins at 11.30am will be conducted by the Dean, the Very Revd Kenneth Hall, and those taking part will include local clergy and a number of people directly affected by the bomb.

Bishop John McDowell will say: ‘Today is a day when we remember those who were themselves remembering when they were murdered, and we try to do so with the same simplicity, gratitude and dignity as they showed when they gathered that day at the War Memorial.’   He will continue: ‘…We need also to reflect on the fact that what has been achieved in this part of Northern Ireland is to a great degree due to the quiet generosity of this community. It is a community that has refused to allow its relationships with one another or its unique spirit to be poisoned by enmity and violence. I thank God that we have this opportunity today for people from every part of the community to come together in this way.’


Genesis 8:1–4, 15–22
Romans 8: 31–end

May all that I say to you be in the name of ‘the God and Father of compassion and the God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our troubles, so that we can comfort those in any trouble with the comfort we ourselves have received from God

(2 Cor. 1:3–4)  

I want to say at the outset how great a privilege it is to preach on this occasion. A great privilege and a great responsibility. I know that for many of you today will be a difficult one in a very personal way. I know that today we walk, as it were, on holy ground; on ground hallowed by twenty–five years of prayer and perseverance.

The Enniskillen bombing also raises many questions which are amongst the most difficult for Christian people to address. The problems posed by the suffering of the innocent, or the place of God in a world where pain and injustice are all too real, are particularly difficult to think about clearly when our eyes are blinded by tears and our hearts are breaking with sorrow.  

Indeed without a belief in an ultimate grace and goodness they would be impossible to bear or to consider at all.

However, we are gathered here in the presence of the God of all goodness and all grace as we remember and reflect.

Each one of us, who is old enough, in this Cathedral today, will remember the events of the 8th of November 1987 in our own way. Many of us, including me, experienced those events only at a distance. I was living and working in Belfast at the time, but, as you might imagine the reverberations of that day were felt very keenly even in that city, and even amongst those who thought that they were hardened against the report of every act of violence.

Others of you who are from in and around Enniskillen will have experienced the bombing much more personally. Probably you knew some of those who were killed or injured; and the pain and grief of the day were much closer to home. You felt it in your families and in your marrow.

And others of you were tragically closer still, and to this day you bear the marks of bereavement or of acute physical suffering as constant reminders.  Remembrance is your daily, even hourly companion.

But for all of us on 8 November 1987, whether near or far from Enniskillen, we were aware that something almost indescribably depraved had happened. That people who had gathered for a simple and dignified act of remembrance, had now, through some perverted ingenuity, themselves suffered the same bloody devastation that had been visited on those who they had gathered to remember.

Today is a day when we remember those who were themselves remembering when they were murdered, and we try to do so with the same simplicity, gratitude and dignity as they showed when they gathered that day at the War Memorial.  

In the early 1990s I worked alongside one of the young people who had been very seriously injured in the bombing. In every sense that young man was just an ordinary person, setting out to do his best in his first job; enjoying the new experiences that working life brings, and, now looking back on it, bringing to his workplace a joy in living which perhaps only someone who was so near death can have. What struck me about him most was not his bitterness but his normality.

In my experience those who have been subjected to the horrors of violence, whether injured or bereaved, do not ask that their experience is constantly remembered by everyone else in every waking hour. But they do ask that they and their loved ones should not be forgotten.

Three words from the Old Testament reading ‘And God remembered…’ In that case He remembered Noah, who with his family felt lost and abandoned (literally at sea) following a great act of destruction. And God remembered them. In the Bible when it is said that ‘God remembers’, it is always recorded that God also acts. In the story of Noah He acted to rescue His servants and to promise them safety and security. And His promise is true today.

The scope of His acting is very wide, and the arc of His justice goes far beyond our horizons, and we do not know how it will all be resolved; but we know that somehow it will be. All is remembered, so that all may be accounted for, one way or another.

And I think that today we should also remember the family of David Black; all those near to him who have been plunged into the same bewilderment of grief and pain by another act of barbarism. 

They are in our prayers, and the sight of their suffering only increases our resolve to make our land a place where every act of violence perpetrated in the name of a political cause is recoiled from in horror, and that those who commit such acts understand that they represent no–one and have achieved nothing and that the whole community is ashamed of them.

And what shall we reflect on? 

Perhaps we need first to reflect on all that has been achieved in the intervening twenty five years. Heaven knows it is far from perfect (for all sorts of reasons) and in many cases people from different religious traditions still live parallel lives. But they are, for the most part, safe lives, and it is an immeasurably better situation than we had in 1987, when many people in this part of the world feared for the lives every time they heard a knock on their front door or left their homes.

We need also to reflect on the fact that what has been achieved in this part of Northern Ireland is to a great degree due to the quiet generosity of this community. It is a community that has refused to allow its relationships with one another or its unique spirit to be poisoned by enmity and violence. I thank God that we have this opportunity today for people from every part of the community to come together in this way.

In 1987 our Churches were havens; places of refuge. They were places where people could rest for a while in the familiar and the reassuring rhythms of worship. Places where people felt absolutely safe. I wonder what our Churches ought to be now? 

Ought they to be places where people find the inspiration and the confidence to take the next bold step towards the wholeness of relationships that the word ‘peace’ really means.  Should our Churches be places where our sense of what we are, and what our vocation might be in our communities, is greatly deepened?  The salt of the earth and lights in a dark world. A people who walk by faith and not by sight.

Perhaps in a service such as this we might do worse than to reflect a little on the life of faith and what it means for us.

First an admission. It is relatively pain free for me to talk about some of the more demanding aspects of faith. Like most people in Northern Ireland I have been affected by the Troubles, and people who have been very near to me have suffered. But the pain of 8 November 1987 is extraordinarily intense, because the act that caused it was extraordinarily savage.

Any of you would be entitled to ask me ‘I wonder how you would feel if you had been one of the bereaved, or one of those who have lived with constant pain or shattered nerves as a result of what happened here twenty–five years ago.’

And so do I wonder how I would feel. I wonder very much indeed how I would feel, considering how difficult I find it to forgive the most trivial personal slight, much less be ready to forgive someone who had murdered someone that I loved.

The Christian life is a high and hard calling for all believers. It is both a great gift and a daily struggle. Many of the great personal virtues of Christianity, the gifts of the Spirit – meekness, forbearance, gentleness, and the readiness to forgive – are often thought of as weak and contemptible, yet the New Testament calls all believers, even when we are the party that has been wronged, to work hard to create the conditions where new relationships become possible.

It does not mean that we have in any way to condone what has happened or in any sense try to minimise the horror of events. Nor does it mean that the ordinary operation of the criminal law should be set aside. Justice and forgiveness are not opposites. They are complementary virtues. 

An individual may be ready to forgive another person, but that does not relieve the State of its duty to protect its citizens through the application of the law against that same person if they have committed a crime.

However, our faith does mean that we are sorrowful that any human being could do such dreadful things as were done in this town twenty–five years ago. And grace also allows us to hope, if it is in any way possible, that somehow and sometime, the people who committed this atrocity might feel the weight of the anguish and the pain they have caused in the heart of God, and in the lives of their neighbours, and might fall to their knees in sorrow. 

Forgiveness is not only an extraordinarily difficult thing; it is also a morally complex thing. Forgiveness is a spiritual gift, and like all spiritual things, in order for forgiveness to complete its work, it must not only be given; it must also be received. And it can only be received by those who feel they need of it. Those who are ready to extend the grace of forgiveness always hope that their act of forgiveness will meet with a sincerely penitent heart in which to take root.

But forgiveness is also God’s means of releasing us from the consequences of the harm that others may inflict on us. We are all the sons and daughters of Adam, living in a world of human weakness and human cruelty. But we are also the sons and daughters of the Resurrection, sharing in the victory and glory of the Risen Lord.   

He has promised that His Spirit will give us a share in His Resurrection life here and now. It is the life of the Father, the life that lived in Jesus Christ, that we are offered.  And so we are called, and usually by slow degrees, strengthened, to love with his love, and to give with his generosity, and to pray with his mind, and to live by His grace.  

There are many people who looked at Enniskillen bombing and who asked – ‘and where now is your God?’  ‘Where,’ they asked ‘was God in all of this heartbreak and agony?’

And it is very difficult to give a rational answer to that question. Maybe there is no rational answer. But there is a revealed one. 

The revelation that on a lonely hill outside the precincts of the city of Jerusalem, when an official called Pontius Pilate was the Prefect of the Roman Province of Judea, a man called Jesus of Nazareth entered deeper into the tragedy of human suffering than even the brutality of a bomb could. That somehow in entering that mess of pain and human cruelty, He overcame it, and dealt with its consequences once and for all. 

And on the third day He rose with a new Kingdom in His hand.

For many, faith is just the confidence of those who have never had their self confidence shaken; the happy by product of a pleasant temperament or a sheltered existence or a limited knowledge of life’s wickedness and bitterness.

Yet there are many here, victims and bereaved, whose shelter was taken away on 8 November 1987 and who experienced just how limitless the wickedness and bitterness of the world can be.

And those people have mourned, and wept and prayed and loved and believed and persevered, because they have trusted in all the promises of God fulfilled in Jesus Christ.  They have believed that there will be a day when ‘God will wipe away every tear from their eyes and there will be no more mourning or weeping because the former things have passed away’.

Whatever their doubts and questionings throughout these twenty–five years (and there must have been many) they have looked at the love of God in the face of Jesus Christ and have entrusted themselves and their dear ones to that love, unreservedly and forever. 

That has not been achieved without the sacrificial comfort and help of many people; doctors and nurses, relatives and colleagues, all of those, friends and strangers, who have prayed for you; in short, all who have walked beside you along the hard way. We give thanks to God for all of them this day. You and they are the real heroes of faith and we honour you today in the presence of the Lord Jesus Christ, your God and ours.

But the last word, because it is in many ways the real last word, must go the great apostle:

‘… in all these things we are more than conquerors through Him who loved us. For I am persuaded that neither death nor life, nor angels, nor principalities nor powers, nor things present nor things to come, nor anything else in all creation will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus Our Lord.’

And now to Him, who, by the power at work within us is able to do more than all we ask or think, to Him be glory in the Church and in Christ Jesus unto all generations for ever and ever. Amen ( Ephesians 3:20)



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