Manchester bombing brings back Troubles atrocities
Last Monday night, about 11 o'clock, many were shocked on hearing news of the bombing atrocity at the Manchester Arena, killing 22 people and injuring of a further 59. It was a suicide terrorist bombing by a 22-year-old Islamist terrorist, and designed to inflict maximum damage and terror on young people enjoying a pop concert.
Since then, I have reflected on the fact that it is so easy to forget the massive extent of the horror and devastation inflicted by the republican and loyalist terrorists on Northern Ireland for more than 30 years. When we learn of the Islamist bombing of Manchester we think of the barbarity of our homegrown bombers in Northern Ireland and the fact that they were the global trailblazers of the cruel carnage inflicted on the people here.
Was the Manchester bombing justified or defensible in any way? The simple answer of any civilised individual is an emphatic 'no'. Nor was the bombing and killing of the Northern Ireland Troubles ever defensible on moral, ethical, political or religious grounds.
In Manchester, the casualty figure is 22 dead and 59 injured. But the total cost is immeasurable. Until their dying days, 22 families will be left devastated -their loved ones murdered. Until their dying days, 59 people's minds will be scarred and their bodies broken. None of this murder or maiming can be undone by the crazed Manchester bomber and his fellow-travellers.
Multiply this scene many times over in the case of Northern Ireland - thousands of lives here have been destroyed by the terrorists.
As the years have passed, what about those terrorists who have come to realise the error of their ways, who are weighed down by guilt and regret for what they have done? This is not a frivolous or superficial feeling. It is at the heart of what it is to be human.
Jesus himself was aware that, as people travel through life, they may get things wrong, or do things wrong, or do wrong things and, later, want to change. It will not be possible to turn the clock back and start all over again.
But, Jesus did hold out to people the real possibility of moving on in life. To emphasise the fundamental importance of this possibility, Jesus proclaimed to everyone: "The Kingdom of God is at hand; repent and believe the Gospel."
Jesus knew that the most important thing every person should do was to show repentance for their failure to live their lives for God and to change. They had got things wrong, they had done wrong! Now, in their encounter with Jesus there was the opportunity to express sorrow for past failures, to receive forgiveness and to set foot in the Kingdom of God.
Right now, I am sure many people have heavy hearts in the aftermath of the Manchester bombing.
We will be praying for the victims - the dead, bereaved and injured. But, we will also have thought for the thousands more killed, maimed and bereaved in the brutal conflict in Northern Ireland.