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franciscan - September 2005

The Society of Saint Francis, 2005

The Light Shines in the Darkness and the Darkness has Never Extinguished it

by David Jardine SSF

I have had a picture on the wall of my office for a number of years of Assistant Governor Eddie Jones.  He was a colleague of mine during the years that I worked as a chaplain in Crumlin Road Prison in Belfast.  Eddie had been in the Irish Guards during the war and afterwards joined the Northern Ireland prison service.  By the time I was appointed as chaplain in 1975 Eddie was already a very experienced man.  Anything that could ever happen in a prison Eddie had seen many times over.  If I ever needed advice he would give it to me in a completely confidential and trustworthy way.  No one else ever knew what we had discussed.

On other occasions he would send for me and say, 'There's a man just into the base who comes from Limavady.  He has been given an eight year sentence and he's registered Church of Ireland.  I think he would like a visit from you.'  Prisoners never knew the concern Eddie showed in the background.

 

In September, 1979, Eddie was on his way back to work after lunch at home.  While he was stopped at the traffic lights close to the prison the IRA came up and murdered him.  He was one of five officers from Crumlin Road murdered during a three month period.  Because of the circumstances those funerals were always very emotional occasions.  For the families it was devastating.  Every year in November the Prison Service still holds a memorial service.  One of Eddie's sons told me that some of his brothers, twenty five years later, still cannot attend that service, the hurt is so deep.

I found in the early years of the Troubles that emotionally the situation did not impact so much on me.  But as the years went on and we were exposed to more and more suffering on a daily basis, that became very upsetting and draining.

What saved me was my faith in God.  He gave me strength at difficult times and the conviction that things could be different.  Because of my faith I never lost hope that one day the Troubles would end.  I used to go into the chapel in the friary in Belfast on my own and walk round and round for an hour, praying for Northern Ireland.  The vast majority of people in the Province, the longer the Troubles went on, were convinced that violence would never end in their lifetime.  But I never lost hope.

I also saw some remarkable answers to prayer.  David Hamilton was converted in his prison cell on January 29, 1980.  A Loyalist paramilitary, David was serving his third long term sentence.  He attributed his conversion to the prayers of an old woman of eighty three called Annie Beggs.  The day David was sentenced she met his mother coming away from the court house.  Seeing how distressed she was Annie promised to pray every day for David.  A year later almost to the day he was converted, completely out of the blue, in his prison cell.  Now pastor of a large independent church in Manchester, David has been in big demand as a speaker for the last twenty five years all over the world.  I thank the Lord that during the long dark times He gave me a conviction that no situation is beyond hope when we can bring it before Him in prayer.

Forgiveness is also very important.  During the years of the Troubles in Northern Ireland, and indeed right up to this day, it is easy to become angry.  Forgiveness releases that anger and bitterness and keeps the channels open between ourselves and God.  There are many wonderful examples of people who have suffered and have forgiven.  Michael McGoldrick is a Roman Catholic man whose son was murdered in 1996.  At the funeral Michael was given the grace to speak to the TV cameras and say that he forgave the people who had murdered his only son.  Annie Harkness is a Protestant woman who lost both a son and a daughter.  When I met her in 1992 I expected to find someone who was either angry or depressed.  Instead I met a lady who was very calm.  She said that she could only take this attitude because of her relationship with Jesus.  'Nobody can serve two masters' she said, 'You can't have within you both love and hate at the same time.'

These people, and many others, are for me heroes of forgiveness.  Yet it is important for all of us, who have not suffered at the same level, to forgive those who have angered us.  Bitterness destroys us but forgiveness restores peace to our minds and a lightness to our spirits.

Saying sorry is also crucial.  That allows us to receive God's forgiveness and peace.  I have been influenced by the teaching of Bishop Festo Kivengere from Uganda on this theme.  He said that the Christians who nurtured him in the faith taught him that if a relationship is strained or broken the quick way to bring healing is to go and apologise for the part we played in the breaking of the relationship.  I believe that in the Northern Ireland situation there are four groups who need to say sorry - Northern Irish Protestants, Northern Irish Catholics, people in the Republic, and the English.

About three or four years ago I felt that the Lord was asking me, when I spoke to Roman Catholic gatherings, to say that I was sorry about the sins of the Protestant people against the Catholic people.  I was aware that Protestants are not the only people to have transgressed but the sin of others is not my responsibility.

I thought about this for a while. I wanted to be sure that it really was God who was speaking.  At last, in Christian Unity Week, 2004, I was ready.  In St Anthony's Roman Catholic Church in Craigavon I said I was sorry about the sins of the Protestant people in Northern Ireland and apologised for my own prejudice and one-sidedness.  I have done this many times since.  Occasionally an individual has thanked me.  Once a priest responded by also apologising.  Mostly no-one says anything, even though I feel that most people are pleased.  On Wednesday, April 27, 2005 I was speaking at a healing service in a Roman Catholic church just outside Belfast.  There were about 300 in the congregation.  I began as usual by saying I was sorry about the sins of Protestant people.  Instantaneously the whole congregation burst into applause.  That was a moving moment for me.  When I sat down the priest thanked me personally, and then got up and apologised publicly on behalf of the Roman Catholic people.  I believe the Lord was pleased.

I am glad to be able to report that the situation in Northern Ireland is so much better today than it was before the ceasefires in 1994.  But even in the darkest times, and there were plenty of them, hope was kept alive in me through my relationship with God.  Walking close to Him was absolutely essential.

I am also deeply grateful for the gifts of forgiveness and repentance, which have often restored my peace and healed relationships.  Even in the toughest circumstances we have to hold on to the fact that Jesus is the light of the world.  That light still shines in the darkness, and the darkness has never extinguished it. f

David Jardine SSF is currently involved with Divine Healing Ministries in Belfast with a commitment to prayer and reconciliation.

 

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