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Why we should welcome a Jesuit in an Anglican pulpit

By Alf McCreary

Published 02/04/2016

Rising again: Easter 1916 commemorations in Dublin passed off peacefully
Rising again: Easter 1916 commemorations in Dublin passed off peacefully

The Easter 1916 commemorations passed off reasonably well, apart from the illegal parades by masked republicans in Northern Ireland, and the unfortunate controversy following an incident at a Junior Orange parade at Ormeau in Belfast.

People are questioning the PSNI reaction at Ormeau but if the bandsmen had not been brushing against cars the march would have passed off peacefully.

Regarding the masked republican marchers, it is impossible to know how to din sense into their heads, but the police reacted sensibly by refusing to be drawn into confrontation with them.

Perhaps we might try dark humour in dealing with these misguided people. A friend once told me of a parade of masked UDA men in Coleraine. As they passed, one bystander yelled to a marcher with a recognisably large posterior "It's not your head you should be hiding Willy, it's your backside."

In Dublin the main commemoration ceremonies passed off as peacefully and as inclusively as possible, with senior representatives of state and the Church lending credence to a concept of Irish nationhood that had little to do with the realities of 1916.

It was depressing, however, to note that some comments by senior Catholic clergy in the Republic still linked the Rising of 100 years ago to the "transcendent" importance of Easter itself. First Minister Arlene Foster and Justice Minister David Ford were correct not to align themselves with the Dublin commemorations but, overall, the main figures on both sides of the border behaved with dignity and respect. Given our troubled history we ought to be thankful for that, at least.

However what about the other 'Easter Rising', which for the vast majority of people in Christendom was a celebration of the resurrection of Jesus Christ.

It was most encouraging to note how the Easter story was commemorated by so many people of all denominations, not only in their churches but also by walking behind a cross in Belfast, Londonderry and elsewhere.

Though I did attend a Maundy Thursday service in my home church, I temporarily deserted my Presbyterian roots by participating in an Easter Morning service in St George's Church, High Street, Belfast. For those who like theatricality, colourful liturgy, resonating language and good music, no church does it better than St George's. It is also worth noting the preacher was Fr Tom Leydon SJ, who delivered as good a sermon as I have heard anywhere on Easter Day.

Not so very long ago, when people did not even dare to attend joint services, the reality of a Jesuit in an Anglican pulpit would not have been possible.

Some people in Northern Ireland would still object to this, but Christians elsewhere would hardly take it under their notice.

In this province it is often one step forward, and two backwards. It was sad to read the current edition of the Presbyterian Herald where a letter writer complained about the magazine carrying a review by a former Moderator of a book by Pope Francis.

Such narrowness is disheartening, but we must press on, and hope that closed minds on all sides will gradually open.

Much depends, however, on whether or not people really want to hear views that are different from their own. One wonders what future generations on this island will think of the 1916 insurrection, 100 years from now. Sadly many people seem to need their myths, rather than the realities, and this applies to all sides.

Belfast Telegraph

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