Queen’s visit changed the narrative about N Ireland – BishopSaturday, May 28th, 2011
The auxiliary Bishop of Down and Connor has publicly paid tribute to Queen Elizabeth for her state visit to Ireland, saying it gave Ireland’s churches an opportunity “to reassert their independence from those political and economic forces that would seek to enlist them on their side”.
Addressing misconceptions about the nature of the conflict in Northern Ireland, Bishop McKeown said Queen Elizabeth's visit in essence accepted what the Good Friday Agreement of 1998 had clearly recognised that, “the conflict was never primarily a religious or confessional conflict but one caused by the tensions between Britishness and Irishness.”
He added that it questioned the “comfortable narratives about our religion – or lack of it - and our politics.”
Of the “long, complex and ... often ... turbulent relationship” between two nations, the prelate said it was not a matter of the two states “trying to circumvent the results of religious fanaticism.” Rather it was two peoples accepting how their enmity and coldness had cost so much blood.
Bishop McKeown noted that, “Wherever armed forces fight, it is innocent civilians who suffer most.” He added that religion is used as a weapon “in the ebb and flow of that brutal tide of violence.”
Paying tribute to President McAleese and Queen Elizabeth, Bishop McKeown described the two heads of state as “women of faith” who “demonstrated that spiritual intelligence can take the rubble of the past and make it into foundations rather than a weapons cache.”
In his reflection, Dr Donal McKeown suggested that it was the two heads of state’s personal faith convictions that proved a huge asset in developing the reflective and sacred dimension of the Dublin events at the Garden of Remembrance and the Irish National War Memorial Park.
“These became symbolic events which effected in many people’s hearts what they proclaimed in gesture and silence. This was ritual taking us beyond the limits of language to the unchartered edges of meaning,” he said.
Referring to the faith leaders who attended the State dinner held at Dublin Castle in honour of Queen Elizabeth, Bishop McKeown said they represented all those who had worked tirelessly to liberate many of the political forces from the corners into which they had painted themselves.
“This was faith enriching the public forum, like leaven serving the common good, not intruding on someone else’s business,” he commented.
Through the visit the churches may implicitly have been removed from being held responsible for past difficulties and as enemies of the future, he suggested, but he added that the visit also challenged the churches to re-examine their role in northern society.
Stating that he hoped the visit would “enable people to be proud of their identity and contribution to a modern society, rather than having to apologise for it,” Bishop McKeown added that the pain of the past had to be acknowledged but that the past could not be undone.
“We ought to have discovered that there is no future if we seek only to punish the perpetrators and vent our righteous fury on the enemy, the oppressor. That endless search for redemptive violence, that urge to believe that satisfying vengeance or the spilling of blood for my pain will build a future – that is a futile hope and we have lived through the effects of that inhuman heresy”, he warned.
by Sarah Mac Donald