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Priest who focussed on what unites rather than divides us

By Alf McCreary

Published 05/12/2015

Remarkable man: Fr Gerry Reynolds worked to bring all of Northern Ireland communities closer together
Remarkable man: Fr Gerry Reynolds worked to bring all of Northern Ireland communities closer together

The death this week of Fr Gerry Reynolds, the Redemptorist priest from Clonard Monastery at the age of 82, marks the passing of another member of that remarkable older generation of people who played such a major part in peace-making.

He played a leading role in the Troubles and more recently he was continually crossing the religious divides and stressing what people of the main denominations have in common.

Gerry Reynolds was born in Limerick in 1933, and two of his uncles were also Redemptorist priests. He was ordained in 1960, and spent the most significant part of his ministry at Clonard Monastery.

With colleague Fr Alec Reid he worked hard to broker agreement between two of the main protagonists in the Troubles and was trusted by the Provisional IRA and by key members of the Establishment.

One of the most harrowing pictures of the entire Troubles was that of Fr Reid kneeling over the dead and almost naked bodies of two soldiers who had taken a wrong turning in west Belfast and were savagely beaten to death by a frenzied Republican mob.

In furthering an understanding between the main denominations, Gerry Reynolds was instrumental in establishing the Clonard-Fitzroy Fellowship, with then Fitzroy minister and later Presbyterian Moderator, the Very Reverend Dr Ken Newell.

This provided a valuable platform for Protestants and Catholics to share their views at a time when this was difficult to achieve in other parts of Northern Ireland.

The positive effect of those important initiatives in practical ecumenism at that time remains incalculable.

Much of Fr Reynolds' work was of necessity low-key, but respected on all sides. Only two weeks ago, under the auspices of the Joyful Hope group, he brought a number of friends from Clonard to Whitehouse Presbyterian Church to observe Communion taking place.

The Rev Liz Hughes, the Whitehouse minister, told me later: "While the Catholics present could not receive Communion, they joined in every other aspect of the service. Members of our Church appreciated Fr Reynolds' thoughtful explanation of the nature of the event but, more than that, his personal warmth and evident interest in them."

I was present at that service and, while it was important in its own right, I felt it a great pity that the main denominations still cannot share Communion together.

Those who oppose it, on both sides, are obeying man-made laws that have nothing to do with the teachings of Christ.

Methodist President the Rev Brian Anderson, in paying tribute to Fr Reynolds, said: "Albert Einstein once remarked that peace can only come through understanding, and these words summarise Fr Reynolds' life. I believe that he was a man who walked on the two feet we call Peace and Justice."

In essence, Gerry Reynolds was a quiet man whose gentle manner and obvious sincerity were deeply impressive.

The work of the peace-builders who helped to bring stability to Northern Ireland is so often sadly overlooked today, and their quiet contribution is often forgotten in the din of our continued political bickering.

However, without the contribution of people like Gerry Reynolds, Ray Davey, Gordon Wilson, Saidie Patterson and so many others, known and unknown, we would not be enjoying the relative peace we have here today, despite its many imperfections.

Their dedication and integrity ought to be remembered for what they achieved, and cherished as an example to us today.

Someone once asked: "Are you working or waiting for peace?" There is a vital difference between the two.

Belfast Telegraph

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