Archbishop remembers Birmingham pub bombings

 Archbishop Vincent Nichols gave the following homily yesterday afternoon at St Philip's Anglican Cathedral in Birmingham during a memorial service to mark the 30th anniversary of the Birmingham pub bombings. "For a number of months now, a remarkable exhibition of paintings has been on show in the principal squares of this city of Birmingham. Just a stone's throw from here it has been possible to see a fine collection of photographs of many different parts of our world. The exhibition is of the photographic work of Yann Arthus Bertrand and goes under the title of 'Earth from the Air'. "The photographs are remarkable. Some are quite breathtaking in their symmetry, colour and beauty: landscapes, mountains, estuaries, the patterns of centuries of agriculture, the rhythm of forests, the flow of water and the imprint of cities. All seen from the height of an eagle's eye. "When looking at this exhibition, one of the printed comments caught my attention. It read: From a distance our world looks beautiful. It is only when you take a closer look that the detail can shock you. On reading that, I thought it was so true, not only of these fine photographs but also of the life of each of us. "From a safe distance, that of fellow citizen or even a neighbour, our lives can seem serene, ordered and comparatively untroubled. But from close up each of us knows there is a different story to tell. Tragedy has marked our lives. On deeper inspection, distress seems to be endemic. When we open our hearts to another, in trust, we all have sadness in the story we tell. "'From a distance our world looks beautiful. It is only when you take a closer look that the detail can shock you.' These words also reminded me of the chain of events that first hit this city thirty years ago today, 21 November 1974. "I was not here. But, even in the few years I have spent in this city, many people have told me of their memories of that moment: a simple evening out shattered by explosions and chaos; the terrible anxious waiting for the return of loved ones, once the news of the explosions had broken; the sense of shock and outrage that had to attach itself to somewhere, even irrationally and unfairly; the terrible seeping numbness that comes when news of injury and death sudden becomes personal; the years of heartache and anguish that follow. "Twenty one people died that night. More than 200 hundred were seriously injured. We are right to remember them, to pray for them, to hold them in first place. "In particular we pray for those present here this afternoon who were personally caught up in these events. Lives were destroyed and changed that night in a most brutal fashion which no cause could ever justify. The passing of time does not alter that. "Yet it is also right for us to remember that the shock waves from those atrocious bombings went far wider, too. "The community of this city was deeply affected; some would say divided. I stand here as a Catholic bishop. I have no real personal links with Ireland. But I am aware that fellow Catholics, and most Irish people, knew that in the days and months that followed those bombs they were viewed with suspicion, sometimes treated with disdain and, at times, even threatened. "As the years passed by, the shock waves continued to reverberate, even to some of the highest places in the land. I was often at the side of Cardinal Hume, then Archbishop of Westminster, and his delegation as they probed the safeness of the convictions that followed these bombings. "After 16 years, the Court of Appeal eventually overturned the original convictions. A Royal Commission was established. Eventually it recommended the creation of a new body to investigate suspected miscarriages of justice. The Criminal Cases Review Commission was established. Police interrogation of suspects has been radically changed and is now regulated by the Policeand Criminal Evidence Act, and all interviews are recorded. "All of this started thirty years ago today. "When we look closely, there are few who have not been touched by the events we remember. So many have their own story, their own emphasis, their own experience, their own point of view which time will not dull nor the memory forget. "Yet today we come to a Cathedral to remember these events. This is not a court room, nor a police station, nor a political headquarters, nor a private family home. Each of those places will remember in its own way. But our place of gathering is a church, a house of God, at whose centre stands the person of Jesus Christ. "In his light how do we now reflect? What do his words stir in our hearts? What does his Holy Spirit ask of us today? "Surely the first request is that we learn more and more to see in each other a son and daughter of God. There is one God. We are all his people. We are, then, to treat each other with the respect that flows from that simple and profound truth. On a good day, as we look around, noting all the differences between us, we may be ready to respect and accept each other. On a bad day it is more difficult. On a terrible day, when an anger surges through us, it may seem impossible not to lash out, with blame and revenge, on whoever can be identified as being crucially different. "So today we pray for a deepening of attentive respect for all, a respect that is to shape even our disagreements and our most difficult investigations, a respect that is never to be withdrawn, a respect of such depth that it can be a barrier holding back our anger. "Today, I know, that many members of the Islamic faith feel aggrieved whenever they hear, on radio, TV or in conversation, the casual phrase 'Islamic terrorists'. Terrorists, yes. But let us not repeat the mistakes of years ago and include all Moslems in a sweeping condemnation that lacks both accuracy and respect. "Our prayer today can also cast light on our duty to search for justice and seek its proper implementation. In prayer we stand before the source of all Justice, the only Lord of all. This is the context in which we strive, in honesty and with the experience of generations, to administer justice in our affairs. We know, only too well, that sometimes we get it wrong. Yet here we stand before the only One who sees all, knows all and embraces all. "When a tragedy or an atrocity occurs, faith tells us one thing for certain. These bombings, as all acts of terrorism, took place in the sight of God. Nothing is hidden from his sight. Just as all that is deserving is rewarded by God, so too nothing horrific is left unpunished. This is God s justice, exercised with great mercy, but justice to the last. Today we remember that this final judgement is still to come. And for all of us. "Perhaps this leads us to the most important movement of the Spirit of God to which we must attend. In this Cathedral we recall the image of Christ at the crucial moment of his earthly life. He hangs, dying on the cross. He has placed his life, freely, into the hands of others. He is a victim like no other for he is a willing victim. "As he dies, his lips move. His words are barely audible. Yet they are the most noble of all words ever spoken. They are the movement of the Spirit of God in a broken, wracked body. Jesus says: Father, forgive them, they know not what they do. "How difficult these words are for us to hear! How much our hearts can rebel against such a thought. Yet, remember, these words are a prayer, a wish offered to the Father. That is what we are asked to echo, perhaps even silently, in the stillness of our heart. "We always find forgiveness so difficult, especially when the offence that has been inflicted is so unspeakable. Yet here we learn what is asked of us: a prayer for those who have offended: a prayer that God, in his infinite mercy, a mercy we never possess of ourselves, may offer them the chance to change and be forgiven. "May ours be a prayer that those who acted in this way may come to a change of heart, acknowledge their deeds and take a step on the road of reconciliation. May our prayer for forgiveness help them on that road. "Respect, a search for true justice and a hope for forgiveness. I pray that these are the fruit of our memorial service today. Such is my prayer because I have an unshakeable faith in the goodness of every person, made in the image and likeness of God, despite the desperate ways in which that image can be marred and disfigured. I have a longing, as I know you do too, for our city and our society to grow in just those qualities: respect, justice and forgiveness, for they are the building bricks of peace. "The quotation with which I began, taken from the photographic exhibition, can serve as an ending, especially as I will now complete it: 'From a distance our world looks beautiful. It is only when you take a closer look that the detail can shock you. Everyone can make a difference by pledging to make just a small change in their lifestyle.' "May the Lord bless us as we try to change, learning from our bitter past and building a better world for tomorrow." Peter Jennings writes: After a moving and prayerful 45-minute service, the Dean of Birmingham, the Very Reverend Gordon Mursell, and Archbishop Vincent Nichols, accompanied the Lord Mayor of Birmingham, Councillor, Michael Nangle, outside to the stone memorial in the Cathedral grounds where he laid a wreath in memory of the 21 victims. The Lord Mayor was followed by Richard Ward and Maureen Mitchell, who survived the terrorist attack on The Tavern in the Town and the Mulberry Bush, the two pubs then situated in central Birmingham only a short distance from St Philip's Cathedral. Relatives of the victims, some in tears, also placed bunches of flowers round the memorial. Archbishop Nichols helped an elderly lady, Mrs Bridget Reilly from Birmingham, originally from Donegal, Southern Ireland, whose two sons, Eugene and Desmond were killed in the Birmingham pub bombings thirty years ago, on Thursday 21 November 1974. It was a poignant moment. Source: Archdiocese of Birmingham

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