‘I saw Ronan sitting in a police car and thought: here is a symbol of the new Northern Ireland’
An edited version of the homily given at Ronan Kerr’s funeral yesterday by family friend
We have come together here with family, friends, neighbours and people from all walks of life to share our distress at the sudden and callous nature of Ronan's death and to pray our goodbyes for him.
Ronan loved life, he loved others, and that is the legacy he has left us — not to hate but to love.
I met Ronan only two weeks ago. I had just finished giving my talk to young couples on a marriage preparation course in Enniskillen when I went outside to go home. As I was walking towards my car I saw a police car coming slowly towards me. I thought to myself, ‘what have you done now, John?’ when the window rolled down and a voice from behind the wheel shouts out to me: “How are you, Father John?”
I looked into the car and said, “Ronan, ‘tis yourself,” and nearly knocked the head off the big English cop sitting in the passenger seat as I thrust over my hand to shake Ronan's hand.
“How do you like Enniskillen Fr John?” he asked. I said: “Ronan, you can drop the titles as it wasn’t that long ago that you and your brothers Cathair and Aaron used call me Father Ted or Father Jack!”
I chatted with him online on Thursday last and now he has gone — not easy for me to deal with but much more difficult for Nuala and the children, aunts and uncles and grandparents.
Ronan loved life, from an early age when he was in the cot at the bottom of the bed where Cathair slept. He would get Cathair to pull him out of the cot in the morning so that both of them could begin a day of high mischief.
When Nuala returned from hospital with Aaron she was tired the next day and thought that her late husband Brian was looking after the boys. So it was a major shock for her and Brian to find that the two boys had got bubble bath from the bathroom and decided to clean up the sitting room by emptying the bottles over carpets and furniture. There was foam, bubbles and water all over the place and people were coming for Aaron's christening that night. Nuala took on her sergeant major look and got the boys to clean up the whole mess and then sent them to bed — and hence they missed Aaron's christening.
From an early age he had a great interest in games involving police cars. Ronan, Cathair and Aaron would lie behind the hedge of their house and look at the number plates of cars that were passing by and then did an imagined radioing of their number plates to someone in the back garden.
He had a great interest in cars and was looking forward to showing off his new car to Cathair who was due home from Australia. He was a practical joker and gave his ister Dairine a hard time by teasing her all the time. But she got her own back on him a few days ago when on the first of April she texted him at work to say that Cathair had arrived home unexpectedly from Australia. He texted back to say: “Please tell me this is not true”, as he so much wanted to be there when Cathair came home. Dairine just texted back: “April Fool!”
He loved his Gaelic football and never missed a Tyrone match. Ronan loved life, his friends, his family, and he loved his new career. Seeing him sitting behind the wheel of the police car last weekend, I thought to myself: there is the symbol of the new Northern Ireland — a young man living out his childhood dream to be of service to others; to help protect, to make life safer for others; to be a peace builder in communities and between communities.
In the Gospel, Martha said to Jesus: “If you had been here my brother would not have died”. Jesus wept. Surely he knew he was going to raise Lazarus to life, so why did he cry? He cried because in Martha's tears he saw all the tears of the mothers who would lose their children. Maybe he was crying for his own mother Mary, knowing the pain she would go through as as he lay dying on the Cross of Calvary.
Because God gave us free will — which is the essence of being human — it also means we are free to do good or bad. With that freedom, we have our broken humanity, a humanity that is caught between love and hate, joy and pain, sorrow and happiness.
By raising Lazarus to life again God showed that he has power over life and death, but he also wanted to show through his tears that life eternal is where we are all headed. If someone wants to perpetrate an evil act to destroy someone’s life, God cannot intervene to stop it because of free will.
Ronan and most of his generation are proud of their culture and their faith, but for them it is a faith and a tradition without walls, that is inclusive, not exclusive, that unites rather than divides.
As Nuala, Cathair, Aaron and Dairine called for in their statement after Ronan's death, they don’t want his death to be in vain but that others should join in the vision that he had for a new and better homeland in the future.
Our participation in this funeral, the statements from all political parties and the worldwide media coverage shows that his death, like Christ’s, has not been in vain but will galvanise everyone to work with greater zeal and vigour for the future good of all. But it doesn’t lessen the pain of his loss for family, friends and colleagues.
May you rest in peace, Ronan. We all miss you.