The Metropolitan Cathdedral in Liverpool where many of us met tonight for a vigil for those who died in Manchester yesterday
I have just got home from a Mass which was held in the Catholic Cathedral in honour of those who died in the massacre in Manchester yesterday. I am not a person of religious belief but somehow Archbishop Malcolm summed it up when he said, “When you are in sorrow this is the place to be”. We always get together in Churches, Mosques, Temples and Synagogues when we want to commiserate or celebrate. Many do it because they believe in the power of intercession and prayer. Others because it is a place where belief can be manifested. Some like me go because there are places where wider things can be easily considered.
The Pope has sent a Prayer of Peace to be read out by all assembled. Two paragraphs of this struck me forcefully and I reproduce them here in full:
“O Jesus, Prince of Peace, we pray to you for the ones who have been wounded in these acts of inhuman violence; children and young people, old people and innocent people accidentally involved in evil. Heal their bodies and hearts; console them with your strength and at the same time, take away any hatred and a desire for revenge.
Touch the hearts of terrorists so that they may recognise the evil of their actions and may turn to the way of peace and goodness, of respect for life and dignity of every human being, regardless of religion, origin, wealth or poverty”.
Of course I don’t get the religious bits but somehow these two paragraphs summed up the two sides if what we need to do:
- Work to heal and support those who have been maimed or bereaved. These were mostly young girls with a life full of hope and future still unwritten. For the rest of their lives their mums and dads will miss the; wonder about how they would have done at school or Uni; about whether they would have got good jobs; found a partner or had kids. There will always be an aching void in their hearts where their child would have been.
- Work to change and convert those who even think in their darkest moments about conducting such atrocities.
What we should not do is to rush to judgement about a whole religion and way of life on the basis of what a handful of people who claim to be its adherents say and do. I have lived in a Moslem Country for three years. Millions of us go on holiday to countries like Egypt, Tunisia and Turkey which are largely composed on Moslems. Do we feel threatened when we are there? Of course not. We come home saying what a lovely holiday and what friendly people.
To say that this is a Moslem problem is to say that all the Catholics and Protestants who live in Northern Ireland were terrorists because of the Catholic and loyalist paramilitaries. The handful of terrorists who cause atrocities are extremists who are cast out of Moslem Society. Most Moslems are like every most Christian, none-believer, Jew, Sikh or Hindu et al. They want to bring up their children in peace, have a decent life and live in a warm and safe home.
There are those who are seeking to make trouble from this. We must not let them win. We must work on both sides of the ignorant spectrum if we are to achieve long-lasting peace. We must understand what is changing a small number of largely British people into extremists. Most Moslems are not changed in such a way. Is it personal circumstance where they have been touched personally by events in the Middle East? Is it the internet? Is it a psychiatric problem? It could be any of those.
What about those who seek to cause divisions where divisions need not exist. The vermin from the English Defence League who get on a train to revel in every tragedy and the newspapers writers who get off on scurrilous writings. With them as well we must work to show them that what they espouse is both wrong factually as well as wrong morally.
But somewhere in the middle of those extremes there are a lot of people who are scared. Scared of changes in the communities in which they have lived for decades; scared of new food; new ways and new clothes. It would be too easy to scoff at those concerns as being those of ignorant people. We must work with them to and the communities in which they live to try and ensure that problems are dealt with and communities are integrated.
I have not sought in this matter to give you 10 easy points which will solve the problems of society. If I did that I would be a genius or a fool. I don’t believe that easy answers exist. If we are to stop other atrocities we have to work together and work consistently to reduce tensions in the Middle East and then reduce tensions in our fractured communities.
In the meantime it is right that the political parties have stopped their General Election wrangling and have jointly agreed this. Sometimes we must forget divisions and come together. Perhaps today as a none-believer I heard the words of the Pope telling us how.