Hundreds of people attended separate services in Tyrone and Donegal on Wednesday 15th August, held to mark the 20th anniversary of the Omagh bombing in which 29 people and two unborn babies lost their lives. The Real IRA attack, on 15th August 1998 was the single bloodiest atrocity of the Northern Ireland Troubles.
The bigger of the two commemoration services took place at Market Street, in Omagh town centre, at the exact spot where a car bomb exploded 20 years earlier. The service was arranged by the Churches’ Forum in Omagh, whose co-chairpersons are the rector of Drumragh with Mountfield, Revd Ian Linton,
and the parish priest of Omagh, Fr Eugene Hasson.
OUT OF DARKNESS
There are few more sobering things you can do than to leaf through the pages of Lost Lives: The stories of the men, women and children who died as a result of the Northern Ireland Troubles. This book, first published in 1999, records the circumstances of each Troubles related death. The stories are a reminder of the awful cost and reality of the Troubles.
Last week marked 20 years since the Omagh bombing. The bomb on 15th August 1998 was no respecter of age, gender, politics, religion or nationality. The sheer scale of the loss of life was higher than any other single incident during the Troubles. Thinking back is a vivid reminder of the suffering that day – and that produced by decades of violence.
In Omagh itself there were a number of events to remember that fateful day. On Sunday 12th August, an interdenominational remembrance service took place in Omagh to mark the anniversary of the bombing. The title of the service was ‘Out of darkness’.
Survivors and relatives of the dead congregated in the Memorial Garden. People came from Northern Ireland, the Republic of Ireland, England and Spain. They came to remember the 29 people killed in the explosion, including a woman pregnant with twins. The atrocity was claimed by the Real IRA, a republican splinter group.
At a ceremony in the town on 15th August a bell was rung, in memory of each of the victims. An additional peal was rung for all who have lost their lives in atrocities around the world.
In St Anne’s cathedral (Belfast), also on Wednesday 15th August, special prayers were said at services
during the day for all the victims and survivors of this and other acts of terror. Thirty-one candles, one for each of those who died, including the unborn twins, were lit at the day’s first service at 8.10am. The candles sat symbolically at the base of the cathedral’s Spire of Hope. On the same day an event for prayer and reflection was also held in St Columb’s cathedral in Londonderry, in memory of the victims.
At the service in Omagh on 12th August several striking things were said. John McKinney is the former chief executive of Omagh District Council. He told the families and friends of those who were killed that they have shown “courage and leadership.” Talking of their journey since the bombing, he said: “It was a struggle, a daily struggle, and I am sure 20 years is more like 100 years.” His words were a sobering reminder of the price of violence, and the courage shown by those who have borne that cost.
Michael Gallagher lost his son Aiden in the explosion. He is the spokesperson for the Omagh support and self help group. He is reported as saying that as a small province, Northern Ireland was facing its greatest challenges ahead. “We would appeal to the political parties to seek agreement so that we can move forward,” he said.
“Working alone we can achieve very little, but in collaborative adventures we can achieve a great deal … We as a community have paid the highest price, let us not forget we need to make this work.”
Agreement and living together is the only way to move forward. The cost of doing otherwise is simply too great.
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Letters to the editor
Lead bishop for the environment
THE WORLD is on fire. Wildfires have raged from Athens to the Arctic. Heatwaves have broken records in Africa, Japan, North America and Europe. Sadly, the wildfires and heat have led to lives lost and property destroyed.
In Ireland, we suffered a very wet winter, and the wettest decade in 300 years. This has been followed by the worst drought in 40 years. Armagh broke its 175-year-old temperature record on 27th June with the heat reaching 30.4 celsius.
Climate change is hitting hard and farmers and vulnerable people are struggling. The Church of Ireland offered prayers for the farming community, but is that it?
Ireland has one of the worst environmental records in Europe (Irish Times 1st August), so where is the call from the House of Bishops for governments, both north and south, to accelerate the response to climate change, reduce pollution and prevent environmental degradation?
As Bishop N.T. Wright said, “God is the Creator God, he doesn’t want to say, ‘Okay, creation was very good, but I’m scrapping it.’ He wants to say, ‘Creation is so good that I’m going to rescue it’.”
Bishops need to lead dioceses and parishes in the rescue of creation: to lower carbon-footprints, reduce paper and plastic waste, and create habitats on parish property; to campaign for a better world, care for creation, and call governments to task for inaction.
Is it now time for the Church of Ireland to have a lead bishop for the environment?
Lurgan Co. Armagh
I WOULD like to thank Bishop Dr Mouneer Hanna Anis for his excellent comments in ‘Immigration: resolving the root of the problem’ (Gazette 3rd August).
Bishop Mouneer’s responsibilities are huge and extremely challenging, presiding as he does over a diocese that extends across eight countries – Algeria, Tunisia, Libya, Egypt, Ethiopia, Eritrea, Somalia and Djibouti. These countries span North Africa and are places of origin as well as through routes for many of the refugees fleeing to Europe.
I applaud Bishop Mouneer for clearly stating that economic conditions are an entirely understandable reason for migration. Who would not leave home in search of a place where they could provide the basic necessities of life for their family?
He appeals for Western leaders to provide more assistance to refugees’ countries of origins – to make plans for increasing sustainable development.
Bishop Mouneer also points to the scandal of the international arms trade, which destabilises countries, fuels war and causes untold suffering. He calls on Western countries to address this issue. The UK is currently the sixth largest arms exporter in the world.
Peaceful, more stable communities, with opportunities to learn, to work, to access healthcare and to provide for one’s own family – these are places where people will choose to stay, places where it is possible to make a home.
Ireland is a world leader in international development thinking and in striving to meet the 0.7% aid pledge. As a Christian community here, we have a part to play in responding to the refugee crisis on our own doorsteps, but also in influencing what happens in other parts of the world.
We have a responsibility to speak out, influencing our own governments’ foreign policies and involvement in the arms trade. We also need to support our brothers and sisters living in the hard places.
Local churches across Africa are ideally placed to respond to the needs of their communities, bringing hope and fullness of life. We need to stand with them, sharing what we have, as they seek to fulfil the vision God has given them to bring his kingdom in all its fullness.
CMS Ireland has worked in partnership with Bishop Mouneer and his diocese for many years; it is our privilege and calling to continue doing so. I thank our partner for his timely and arresting insights.
CMS Ireland Belfast
R. SEATHRÚN Mac Éin (Gazette 10th August) seeks to extract Donatism from my charge of heresy against the GAFCONites – but it is, of course, precisely the heresy of which GAFCON stands accused.
It is the presumption that questions the validity of sacraments received from those in whom doctrinal fault is perceived that leads to GAFCON’s wholesale and unAnglican interference in others’ polity.
Asagayman,Imakeno apology for making what Mac Éin describes as an emotionally charged accusation of homophobia. It is widely
accepted that those who suffer discrimination alone have the right to identify and define it. I do not need Mac Éin to tell me I am emotional; nor am I ashamed of my emotion. His need to highlight it may be but a symptom of his own homophobia?
Mac Éin’s letter last week appeared above my own. I leave it for him to judge who is shoring up the Temple’s walls, and who sits with Christ at its gates – but I venture to suggest that he may find the answer in his biblicism.
Rupert Moreton (Revd) Joensuu
Same-sex marriage debate
SO, THE debate, the rumblings and the fighting goes on about same-sex relationships and marriage.
I have read enough erudite and thought provoking articles by sincere and committed Christian scholars to know that, because of uncertainties of linguistics and meanings, we can never be sure of what the writers of Leviticus and the Pauline letters mean.
Especially when Leviticus deplores so many practices we now accept – with regard to diet, menstruation, punishment with death for crimes we see as quite minor – how on earth can the famous quote be taken seriously?
And why on earth should we be worried if Paul did use the word “abomination”, he who unlike accepted opinion that marriage and sexuality within it are a gift and a blessing from God – he who says (and I obviously paraphrase) ‘marry if you have to rather than burn with lust, but far better if you stay celibate’.
Talk about cherry picking! Nowhere in the Bible does homosexuality include devoted monogamous relationships; it is with regard to certain practices and instances. We do not know exactly what is meant by these passages, and we do know what Jesus (surely more important than Paul or any Old Testament writer) meant when he talked of caring for others. He talked of “loving our enemies” and “our neighbour as ourselves”. Should we not concentrate on doing this? But, perhaps it will be argued that the refusing, as the Presbyterian Church in Ireland has done, to allow those in same- sex relationships to be full members of their churches is precisely that.
If such twisted thinking were indeed permissible, would Christ not baulk at the children of same-sex parents being also forbidden membership?
Surely it is the religious people so critiqued by Jesus in his day (“brood of vipers”, “whited sepulchers”) who 2000 years later are grieving Christ more than those who claim no religious or fundamentalist convictions.
Portstewart Co. Londonderry
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