At times today and yesterday, an eerie hush has come over the crowds as they listen to a broad range of speakers. It is the silence of self-examination. The speakers who have led us in discussions about forgiveness and suffering are causing us to ask very painful questions about how we value our own lives and how we are presenting ourselves as a nation. The Congress has a joyful atmosphere, but the content of the talks is not feel-good or happy-clappy.
Over a period of two days, the very benevolent founder of Children in Crossfire, Richard Moore, has spoken about forgiving the British soldier who shot him with a rubber bullet. Richard was 10 when he was blinded by the bullet, but clarifies that “blindness has been a very positive experience for me. I didn’t have any anger or bitterness. I had the gift of forgiveness and the power of my parents’ prayers who went to Mass every day.” It wasn’t just the troubles that caused his family misery. A newspaper article took issue with Richard’s mother, arguing that she had “neglected her family” because her son had been shot. Richard in his Ulster lilt said this caused his gentle mum “a lot of pain”.
I was covered in goose-bumps as Richard described that when he became an adult, he sought out Charles, the British soldier who had wounded him and became friends with him. Richard took Charles to meet his mother which was “a highly emotional experience”.
At the press conference, I asked Richard what he would say to some Catholics in Britain who find it hard to forgive IRA members for marring the reputation of Catholics. Richard is forthright that “a line has to be drawn in the sand, and each person must develop their ability to move on. That doesn’t mean that what some people did wasn’t wrong. Of course it was wrong”. Richard, inspired by his Northern Irish childhood where he grew up “in a war zone”, founded Children in Crossfire which cares for children in poverty, especially disabled children, and concentrates a lot of its efforts in Ethiopia and Tanzania.
Rosa Busingye’s reiterated one of Richard’s points that the Church is doing much good but under-reported work in Africa. A native of Uganda, Rosa is a nurse and midwife who founded Meeting Point International that is currently caring for 2,500 Aids orphans and mums who are stricken with the virus. Rosa has organised for the ladies to have football games, which she says is having a surprisingly revolutionary role in transforming the community; the women get a break from child-minding, can make friends with other mothers and the husbands watch the games to cheer on their wives. Rosa impresses others with her glowing smile and vitality. While she is highly qualified, she is adamant that her most important role is to instil in others a sense of their own worth and that God loves them deeply. She relates how she was astounded when she realised the full significance of the Eucharist; “that God would make Himself present in me!”
Christopher Lamb from the Tablet asked Rosa what her opinion is about condoms preventing HIV and Rosa was candid that “in order to protect the other, you need to know the other. With the condom there is still a chance of infection. If I have HIV and I really love my boyfriend, will I do the thing that will look after him or infect him?”
Rosa Busingye’s cheerfulness in the face of such heartbreaking loss of life is causing us to appreciate our lot in life. And Richard Moore’s amazing story of forgiveness is prompting us to ask ourselves if we are forgiving others. The general secretary Fr Kevin Doran outlined that Ireland faces three challenges of reconciliation. One is the clerical abuse crisis, the second is healing after the troubles in Northern Ireland and lastly the economic catastrophe that was in part caused by the greed of some but that has left many in financial hardship.
To be frank, I had not been looking forward to going to Dublin for the Congress. It’s true that Dubliners are some of the warmest, friendliest and most down to earth of all the Irish. But at times it seems like all of Ireland is in an endless complain-fest about our past, the Church, the constricting “economic austerity” plans, the euro and the fact that my generation of university graduates are either jobless or leaving the country in droves. A philosopher would say it is a classic case of an island race with a melancholic temperament. I’m more of the opinion that it is isolationist mentality, where the woes of the rest of the world are ignored, by my fellow Irish who are fixated on their lack of money or who cannot stop talking about the filthy offences committed by a percentage of the island’s priests.
But these conversation trends have been dropped by the pilgrims walking around the Royal Dublin Society. We cannot say that the Irish race are the most unfortunate of God’s children, nor can we say that forgiveness is an impossibility as Richard Moore walks with us.