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March 2016


Stone rolled

Tomorrow morning (11am) in Fitzroy we will be following Good Friday Cafe Communion... On Friday we declared that something was over... complete as Jesus cried "IT IS FINISHED!"

"Enmity is finished... bring on the love

Sin is finished... bring on the forgiveness

Law is finished... bring on the grace

War is finished... bring on the peace

Death is finished... bring on the resurrection life!"

So... on Sunday... We will look at what we leave in the tomb... what stones we need rolled away... we will declare IT IS STARTED... what has started? 

There will be tasty guitar raised worship... spirituals... brand new verses... a Rich Mullins song sung by Shannon Clements... The new life starts here!

There is no evening service...




IT IS FINISHED - AN EASTER MEDITATION - Fitzroy Cafe Communion 2016

  Craigan Cross
photo: Neil Craigan


Discomfortable Friday

Discordant, distorted

Everything is broken and sore


Miserable Friday

Misplaced, miscarried

Everything in mourning and sorrow


Heinous Friday

Hellish and helpless

Everything hopeless and forlorn


Callous Friday

Confused and contorted

Everything abandoned and blown.


Demonic Friday

Deathly and dismal

Everything in shadows and dark.


JOHN 19 

So the soldiers took charge of Jesus. 17 Carrying his own cross, he went out to the place of the Skull (which in Aramaic is called Golgotha). 18 There they crucified him, and with him two others—one on each side and Jesus in the middle.

19 Pilate had a notice prepared and fastened to the cross. It read: jesus of nazareth, the king of the jews. 20 Many of the Jews read this sign, for the place where Jesus was crucified was near the city, and the sign was written in Aramaic, Latin and Greek. 21 The chief priests of the Jews protested to Pilate, “Do not write ‘The King of the Jews,’ but that this man claimed to be king of the Jews.”

22 Pilate answered, “What I have written, I have written.”

23 When the soldiers crucified Jesus, they took his clothes, dividing them into four shares, one for each of them, with the undergarment remaining. This garment was seamless, woven in one piece from top to bottom.

24 “Let’s not tear it,” they said to one another. “Let’s decide by lot who will get it.” This happened that the scripture might be fulfilled that said,

“They divided my clothes among them

    and cast lots for my garment.”[a]

So this is what the soldiers did.

25 Near the cross of Jesus stood his mother, his mother’s sister, Mary the wife of Clopas, and Mary Magdalene. 26 When Jesus saw his mother there, and the disciple whom he loved standing nearby, he said to her, “Woman,[b] here is your son,” 27 and to the disciple, “Here is your mother.” From that time on, this disciple took her into his home.

Cross 16


Take me there

And let me see

The face of the innocent

With the contorted twist of pain.


Take me there

And don’t let me turn away

Don’t let me run

From the consequences

Of who I am

Reflected in the one

Who is not at all like me.


Take me there

And let me hear

The guttural words of anguish

That should never have been shrieked

From this tormented soul

“My God, my God, what have you forsaken me.”


Take me there

Let me see

Let me hear

Let me know

Let me know the truth

That the truth might set me free

Let me know that...

“It is finished.”



28 Later, knowing that everything had now been finished, and so that Scripture would be fulfilled, Jesus said, “I am thirsty.” 29 A jar of wine vinegar was there, so they soaked a sponge in it, put the sponge on a stalk of the hyssop plant, and lifted it to Jesus’ lips. 30 When he had received the drink, Jesus said, “It is finished.” With that, he bowed his head and gave up his spirit.

It Is Finished 2


It is finished, but still we feel ashamed

It is finished, but still we feel unloved

It is finished, but still we feel enslaved

It is finished, but still we feel unworthy

It is finished, but still we feel inferior

It is finished, but still we feel no peace

It is finished, but still we carry on

As if He never came

As if He never died

As if He never cried

It is finished

There are no buts

There are no ifs

There are no onlys

There is no turning back

It is finished!



It is finished!



Christ Carries Cross


You're coming into town on your donkey tonight

You're coming into town on your donkey

You're coming into town on your donkey tonight

You're coming into town, coming into, yeah yeah

You'll be going out in the spirit

You're coming into town on your donkey tonight

But you'll be going out on a cross

But you'll be going out on a cross

But you'll be going out on a cross



When they came for Him in the garden, did they know?

When they came for Him in the garden, did they know?

Did they know He was the Son of God, did they know that He was Lord?

Did they hear when He told Peter, “Peter, put up your sword”?

When they came for Him in the garden, did they know?

When they came for Him in the garden, did they know?



In the garden at Gethsemane

He prayed for the life he'd never live,

He beseeched his Heavenly Father to remove

The cup of death from his lips


Now there's a loss that can never be replaced,

A destination that can never be reached

A light you'll never find in another's face,

A sea whose distance cannot be breached


Well Jesus kissed his mother's hands

Whispered, "Mother, still your tears,

For remember the soul of the universe

Willed a world and it appeared



Strange way to start a revolution

Strange way to get a better tan

Strange way to hold a power breakfast

Strange way to show your business plan

Strange way to test if wood would splinter

Strange way to do performance art

Strange way to say ‘I’ll see you later’

Strange way to leave behind your heart

Strange dissident of meekness
And nurse of tangled souls
And so unlike the holy
To end up full of holes
It’s a strange way



Jesus screamed by hour nine,

Why does God forsake him?

In his mouth a bitter gall,

vinegar to slake him

Finally he gave up his ghost

The mountains disassembled

And the veils were rent in twain

The veils were rent in twain

And the whole world trembled



Were you there 

When they crucified my Lord 

Were you there 

When they crucified my Lord 

Oh, oh, oh 

Sometimes it causes me to tremble, tremble, tremble 

Were you there when they crucified my Lord



“We all have our problems
Some big, some are small
Soon all of our problems
Will be taken by the cross

Black day, stormy night
No love, no hope in sight
Don't cry for he is coming
Don't die without knowing the cross”



“I want to go, to the foot of Mount Zion
To the foot of He who made me see
To the side of a hill blood was spilt
We were filled with a love
And we're going to be there again


Shout, shout, with a shout”



I heard singing of a violent, tireless mystery:

That one would give his life to save his enemy.


Your body is a bridge across an endless sea.

Your body is a bridge across an endless sea



At the wonderful tragic mysterious tree

On that beautiful scandalous night you and me

Were atoned by His blood and forever washed white

On that beautiful scandalous night



We were sons of insurrection, doomed to face the dark alone. 

'Till vicarious perfection, dearly won, was made our own.

So where's your landslide, where's your victory? 

Tell me now, where's your sting?

Unassailable you waited, the great enemy of man, 

'till your awful jaws were sated, and we were ransomed from your hand.

Now that you have been disarmed, 

We will cross over unharmed.



You did that for me

You did that for me

You wore the chains so I could be free

You did that for me


Man of sorrow

Well-acquainted with grief

Dragged to the city dump

Spread-eagle on a cross beam

Propped up like a scarecrow,

Nailed like a thief

There for all the world to see


You did that for me

You did that for me

You wore the chains so I could be free

You did that for me



Let the water flow, let the light shine 

Let the blood go through me like a river winds 

Through the valley, through the meadow 

Through my spirit and my soul just like a river goes 

Over the mountain, under the moonlight 

Let the blood go through me till I truly see the light 

VERVE, U2 & LADY GA GA ON JUDAS - From Darkness To Dawn Script BBC Radio Ulster 23.3.16

Ga Ga Judas

When some cool high street barista asks for your name with your coffee order have you ever found that they misheard you and called you something weird. Or have you ever given a weird name. It seems that Richard Ashcroft lead singer of the Verve, remember Bitterweet Symphony, was in a New York cafe and he gave the name Judas. He was shocked at the response. How could a name from thousands of years ago provoke such reaction, he wondered. Surely its time to let it go.




The spark that lit Bono’s Gethsemane flame was a book of poems by Irish poet Brendan Kennelly called The Book of Judas. Kennelly’s work is quite a tome, eight years of poems, where profanity sits alongside Christ as he looks at the Judas of Gethsemane, the Judas in our culture and the Judas in us all. 

In his preface, he asks questions like: Was Judas A man whose vision of things was being throttled by another, more popular vision?” 

Kennelly asks if… Judas is a “spirit not confined to the man who bore the name Judas but one more alive and consequential now at the famined, bloated, trivialized, analytical, bomb-menaced, progressive, money-mad, reasonable end of the twentieth century than ever before?” 

Judas is not someone we give a lot of time to. Most of us see him as Satan incarnate who sold his soul for thirty pieces of silver. If only Judas’ story was that simple. Judas and his story were so complex that Bob Dylan had wondered if Judas Iscariot had God on his side? It’s a mighty question that like so many other things we want to ignore. 

Brendan Kennelly’s thoughts on Judas definitely influenced U2 take on JudasUntil The End Of The World was recorded around the same time. It is one their most enduring live song.

Bono obsession with Scripture takes him right inside the story. 

The closeness of the bride and groom was a wonderful image of the return of Christ at the end of the world, and missing too much, if you stop to think seems to have been a shot across the bows of post-modern culture. Kissing Jesus and breaking his heart brings to life this part of the passion story that seems to have lost its flesh and blood and feelings and pain. Judas’ emotions after the act is done are conveyed in musical moments of guitarist Edge’s genius. 

No sermon or Easter reflection could quite conjure such a roller coaster insight into this vital event to the redemption of the world. 




Indulge me to one more rock star commentary. Lady Ga Ga has also her song about Judas.

She says of her take on Judas:

"I keep going back and forth between the darkness and the light in order to understand who I am.”

“Someone once said to me, 'If you have no shadows then you're not standing in the light.' So the song is about washing the feet of both good and evil and understanding and forgiving the demons from your past in order to move into the greatness of your future.”

Like Bono, Kennelly and Ga Ga I always spend at least some part of Holy Week I always give myself a day to looking at the actions of Judas, looking out for where he sneaks around in our society…


Judas, Judas

Are you there

In a society kissing God goodbye

As we write our agendas of more and more

Of building bigger barns to horde treasure on earth


Judas Judas

Are you there

In our wee country kissing God goodbye

As we fight for a land for ourselves

That we don’t want to share with others

Because others are different

And others might impinge on our traditions and our comfort


and then I ask God to search my heart to see where the traces of Judas are in me.


Judas, Judas

I hear you cry from inside myself

When I get frustrated

That my prayers don’t get answered the way I want

And no one listens to me

Or people criticise the contributions I make

Or nobody asks me to make one

And God doesn’t seem to be living out my agenda.


Was Judas just a guy trying to manipulate his agenda and push Jesus into doing it his way? What is my agenda that I want to manipulate Jesus into fulfilling; a political one; an economic one, a theological one? In the end my biggest question is, 

Do I still cling to my thoughts and ambitions instead of the revolutionary upside down ones of Jesus that has us picking up crosses and not crowns?




 click here to listen to this with the music...



The bombings in Brussels is another reminder of the different kind of war we are involved in, whether we want to be or not, in these early decades of the twenty first century. It is heart breaking and frightening. Our immediate response is to worry about who we know that might have been blown up. I searched Facebook for news of a friend as soon as I read the news. Or who might have been there. A friend of mine was in that very spot 24 hours earlier.

What do we do? How should governments respond? How do I as a Christian, who in the middle of Holy Week is reflecting daily on a God who didn’t force his power with might but gave up his life for the world, try to follow Jesus head, heart and soul in the vortex of such events. I pray… but what then, after I get off my knees and open my eyes.

In a “serendipity and grace” moment, which is actually quoted in the episode, I happened to be watching, West Wing Series 5 Episode 2, Dogs Of War, at the end of the day of the Brussels’ bombs. Suddenly put of the screen came these words, President Bartlett quoting Dr. Martin Luther King: - 

"The ultimate weakness of violence is that it is a descending spiral, begetting the very thing it seeks to destroy. Instead of diminishing evil, it multiplies it. Through violence you may murder the liar, but you cannot murder the lie, nor establish the truth. Through violence you murder the hater, but you do not murder hate. In fact, violence merely increases hate. Returning violence for violence multiplies violence, adding deeper darkness to a night already devoid of stars. Darkness cannot drive out darkness; only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate. Only love can do that." 

       ( The Rev Dr Martin Luther King Jr - Where Do We Go From Here? Chaos or Community )

These words don’t only speak into the Brussels’ bombings, and all the other terrorist events we are experiencing across the world, they speak into the events of Jesus Passion. They are hard words to hear. They are far more difficult to live out. Yet, they sound very much like the truth to me. It’s a tough kind of war making peace through love. It reminded me of my poem just days after 9/11… How to stop the sinning wheel… or descending spiral of hate.


Do you remember when the sky exploded

Do you remember the sick stench of rubble and skin

Do you remember the children left waiting in nurseries

Do you remember the funerals without a coffin

Do you remember the lingering fidgeting agitation

Do you remember the paralysis of nothing you can do

Do you remember Jesus saying Do unto others

As you would have them do unto you


Do you remember the heart of the nation crumble

Do you remember the rip in the lining of your soul

Do you remember the day fair could not be mended

Do you remember despair spiralling out of control

Do you remember the news men lost for words

Do you remember fiction blurring into what was true

Do you remember Jesus saying Do unto others

As you would have them do unto you


And in vengeances vicious circle

In the perpetual cycle of hate

Someone has to stop the spinning wheel

Or everything is gonna be too late

Jesus said do unto others

As you would have them do to you

That grace can blow holes in our waging of war

So that peace can squeeze through


Do you remember nowhere left to run

Do you remember the long cast shadow of death

Do you remember the people falling, falling, falling

Do you remember the fear for your next breath

Do you remember the panic ‘neath the dust of hell

Do you remember the heroes trying to make it through

Do you remember Jesus saying Do unto others

As you would have them do unto you


And in vengeances vicious circle

In the perpetual cycle of hate

Someone has to stop the spinning wheel

Or everything is gonna be too late

Jesus said do unto others

As you would have them do to you

That grace can blow holes in our waging of war

So that peace can squeeze through.


With prayers for the loved ones of those lost in the Brussels’ attacks, and all other terrorist attacks, and for those who live with the injuries and the trauma…May Jesus be proved right when he calls the Holy Spirit a Comforter.

OUR STORY OF HEALING, HONOUR AND HOPE - the 100 Days Magazine Reviewed

Our Story of Healing, Honour and Hope

“It is also important to reflect and look back at what happened in 1916, but she argues people living in 2016 also want to look forward, and make sure those events remain in the past. She thinks we are on a journey to reconciliation and now that we have a settled the constitution position the conversation can move forward.”

 - Arlene Foster in conversation with 100 Days


“Sinn Fein’s objective is a secular, socialist republic but it is also based on the 1916 Proclamation which invokes God on two occasions. McGuinness describes the Proclamation as the holy grail of Irish Republicanism, but it also 100 years old and we live in a different age.”

 - Martin McGuinness in conversation with 100 Days


‘At the heart of these narratives was blood sacrifice, underpinned by a thousand year old theology of the death of Christ in which blood a violent and punitive God demanding sacrifice. “Without the shedding of blood, there would be no redemption for Ireland”, the leaders claimed in Easter Week, and without the same at the Somme, there would be no deliverance of the six (or was it to be four or nine) counties from Home Rule. And did anyone ever question that the violent God behind blood sacrifice theology was the contradiction of, and in opposition to, the suffering, non violent God disclosed by Jesus and at the heart of his teaching and life practice.”

 - Dr Johnston McMaster


“The conversation moves to the role of faith in the centenary events. Nichola reflects that the Easter Rising involved a group of individuals who held very disparate and divergent views - some of faith, some of none. “It is difficult to get a corporate view of how faith played into that. People go to war and say they are fighting for God - that’s nonsense in my book”

    - Nichola Mallon


The challenge for Christians on this island is to tell the story about the past that can both celebrate the good qualities of participants, forgive the sinfulness that marks all our human undertakings and learn divine lessons. It is easy to glorify and canonise the perceived heroes, and it is easy to damn the villains and knaves who acted against what I am told are my interests today.”

  - Bishop Donal McKeown


“Whatever our views on the morality of the Great War, we have a calling to act today as peacemakers. Peacemaking involves creating a society free from triumphalism and where all are treated with dignity and respect. That often begins with listening particularly to those with whom we disagree or whose world view or culture is different to ours. Listening can be the prologue to healing and communicates respect.”

 - Dr. John Kyle


While this is hard work, the cross leaves us with no option, we have been given the ministry of reconciliation. We are called to be the bridging narrative, for our land is God’s land. “God has put us here as two peoples and God has given us the capacity, if we have the will, to live together and establish in it justice and peace, making it in reality, God’s land.”

 - Rev Dr Trevor Morrow


These are all quotations that have particularly caught my attention as I have read through the many provocative, challenging and encouraging articles in the one off magazine Our Story of Healing, Honour and Hope. It is a part of the 100 Days Prayer for 100 Years of History project set up by Evangelical Alliance, 24/7 Prayer and Summer Madness. 

The magazine is edited by Peter Lynas and Zoe Rogers with photographs by David Cleland. The variety of contributors is only to be commended for their variety and kudos. From the First Minister and Deputy First Minister; to Catholic Bishops and Presbyterian Moderators; to artists from both sides of our divided community; to Ulster Rugby star Ruan Pienaar and the Archbishop of Canterbury. Phew… and there are many others too.

All of it looks back to those seismic events of 1916 and how they have shaped us today. It never allows us to live in the past but is constantly asking what we should be praying for, hoping for and imaging how to implement them in the future. 

In the shaping of the future I believe this magazine to be a very healthy contribution to the conversations we are in at this moment in our history. These articles, interviews, poems and piece of plays are resources in healing, honouring and hope; vital Christian resources to where we are heading.

Buy ten and strategically give them away.

NO ONE IS BEYOND JESUS GAZE... BBC Radio 2 Pause For Thought 22.3.16

Sand sculpture

This is my Holy Week Pause For Thought on BBC Radio 2 this morning. For Pause For Thought you have to sometimes streamline your script for time and audience. So, this is a slightly longer, fuller version...

Over 20 years ago, I was leaving my Dublin office with my mate Chris. As we were heading out, Paddy who did the door for the Keep Fit Class that hired the hall beside the office said, “Off into The Flowing Tide lads”. Goodness we thought, Paddy has got all philosophical. What a great image of Dublin… a flowing tide. We laughed over lunch but I decided I could put Paddy’s phrase, Into the Flowing Tide into a poem. Chris conjured a song.

We were comparing notes on a car journey about week later and another friend says, 

- That’s the pub across the road from your office. 

- What is?

- The Flowing Tide!

- What?

- It’s the pub on Lower Abbey Street?

We burst out laughing. Paddy wasn’t so philosophical after all! And yet, Chris’s song got written and my poem. I took the Flowing Tide image and set it in Holy Week.

On Friday Christians all over the world will remember the death of Jesus. I realised as I wrote my poem that Jesus died out there in the flowing tide of the city among thieves and gamblers and soldiers and scoffers.

Songwriter Martyn Joseph has a song that suggests that this is a strange way to start a revolution, dying for the world rather than conquering it. 

But everything about this Jesus was kinda strange. The religious struggled with everything he did. He lived and died in flowing tide; among prostitutes, tax collectors, and enemies like Samaritan women and Roman soldiers. The apostle Paul wrote about Jesus being God but “emptying” himself to die for the world. the apostle John believed Jesus was God becoming “flesh and moving into the neighbourhood.” There’s that flowing tide again…

Leonard Cohen once introduced his song Aint No Cure For Love like this: -

"When the Prince of Peace was hanging from His final tree, He looked down at the people looking up at Him. He saw the faces of anger, envy, regret, despair, melancholy, animosity, hatred. He looked down at them and He felt a lever thrown in the universe and He knew that nothing would ever be the same again. And He knew for certain, He finally knew that there ain't no cure for love..."

A couple of years ago I saw a sand sculpture of Jesus on a Spanish beach. The sand artist had added luminous eyes. As I marvelled at the art I couldn’t help but be drawn to those eyes. It didn’t seem that anything or anyone could be out of their reach.

I believe that from the cross, at the end of Holy Week, no one in the flowing tide of humanity will be beyond Jesus loving gaze…



Strange Ways

Strange way to start a revolution 

Strange way to get a better tan 

Strange way to hold a power breakfast

Strange way show your business plan

Strange way to see if wood would splinter

Strange way to do performance art

Strange way to say I'll see you later

Strange way to leave behind your heart


Strange dissident of meekness

And nurse of tangled souls

And so unlike the holy

To end up full of holes

Strange way


Songwriter Martyn Joseph has a song called Strange Way. It is indeed a strange lyric about power breakfasts and performance art and business plans but if you listen closely enough it is actually a song about Holy Week, the week Christians remember Jesus dying on a cross. Dying on a cross concludes Martyn “is a strange way to start a revolution.”

Holy Week actually begins in a more revolutionary scene. Jesus Jesus has been travelling from his home in Galilee up for the Passover festival in Jerusalem. As he arrives in Jerusalem the crowds of his followers, that have been growing on the journey, hail him as King, laying symbolic Palm branches across his path and singing about glory and peace. 

For many this is going according to plan and many believe he is about to overthrow the Romans and set Israel free from their oppression. This is the way of revolution.

BUT as the week goes on, things turn strange. Jesus doesn’t charge the palaces in a coup d’etat but instead ends up 

The revolution ends with Jesus hanging on a cross. A strange way to conquer the world indeed.

Yet, this is the God way. The apostle Paul put it well in his writings (Philippians 2) when he described Jesus… 


“being in very nature[a] God,

    did not consider equality with God something to be used to his own advantage;

rather, he made himself nothing

    by taking the very nature[b] of a servant,

    being made in human likeness.

And being found in appearance as a man,

    he humbled himself

    by becoming obedient to death—

        even death on a cross!”


So Christians believe Jesus is the king they hailed on palm Sunday. But this is a very different kind of King. This is a King who humbles himself to serve others. It is a strange way to do revolution but it what Jesus went on about all along. 


Blessed are the meek, 

Go the extra mile, 

Turn the other cheek, 

The first shall be last and the last shall be first. 


The events of Holy week are indeed a strange way to start a revolution but this is an upside down revolution that brings hope and peace and love into a world where everybody else wants to rule in power. 

This strange way is the most revolutionary way of all…


This is a strange Gospel, Jesus

This is a completely opposite paradigm to the one we are conditioned to

This is a world that flies in the face of all we know

The poor get the Kingdom of heaven

The last are first

The enemies are loved

The religious are sent away unsatisfied

The prostitute is forgiven

The meek inherit the earth

Those who lose their lives find life

The Lord serves the peasant

The King gives up his life

This is a completely opposite paradigm to the one we are conditioned to

This is a world that flies in the face of all we know

This is a strange Gospel, Jesus

And you call us to follow you.



Fitzroy night 2


On Palm Sunday we watch as the Jesus is proclaimed a King? What kind of king did they expect? What was Judas getting excited about? Are the crowds on Donald Trumps agenda? Are we ready for the let down King, the humble king, the walked over king, the crucified king? And how do we live like that? 



Paul Bowman and I will lead us in some reflections as we arrive in Jerusalem for Holy Week… set your soul for the week ahead… out in the flowing tide of the city… a strange way to start a revolution… a king of a different kind… a man of no reputation… 



We are delighted to have an evening to meet Fr Ciarán O’Callaghan who has just joined the Redemptorist brothers at Clonard. It will be a great opportunity to meet him. We will have some Biblical reflection on Easter week and also to take a little time to pray for the weekend’s events to remember the Easter Rising and to look ahead as well as the Somme events planned for July. The loss of a Prison Officer to another terrorist attack this week should shake us into prayerful action for our peace process.



We meet on Good Friday to take time to reflect on Christ’s passion. An informal time in our Welcome area… cafe church style communion… with the amazing voice of Chris Wilson.



We meet to celebrate Jesus resurrection…


and don't forget the


St Paddy Holy lands

So another St. Patrick’s Day, another riot in the Holy Lands. The Holy Lands are those streets around my Church in South Belfast named Palestine Street, Jerusalem Street etc. You get the point? In the last twenty years, and more, these streets have become over run by the Belfast student community studying at Queens University and University of Ulster. 

This density of students has led to anti social behaviour that has caused great anxiety to local residents, many of them quite elderly, who feel fearful and threatened by the nightly drunkenness outside their door. This is heightened on St Patrick’s Day when in what has become a social diary phenomenon hundreds of young people pile into the area, to hang out in their friends rented houses, and drinking goes on for days. The abuse of alcohol added to the enthusiasm of youth causes the tensions at times to tip over as it did this year into confrontations with the Police.

Having been a Chaplain at Queen’s University and now the minister of Fitzroy I have listened to the stories of residents who lock themselves in for days. Today we ran an alternative St. Patrick’s Fun Day on Rugby Road and at least for a few hours local residents got their mind off what happened the night before or what might happen later on. However, some would not dare leave their houses unattended to join us. When there is not a riot many outside the area see it as a success but to try and live with thousands of drunk students singing outside your house, and doing it into the wee hours of the morning, can be torturous even if it doesn’t end up in violence!

So, What causes this blight on a wonderful new Belfast? What can be done? Who should do it? 

The most obvious answer is that St Patrick is not to blame. He has nothing to do with this. This is far from the Gospel of Jesus that he brought. Something has happened to this Saints’ day that allows this to go off in his name. That is something to be considered. How did St Patrick’s Day, about a missionary who’d been a slave returning to those who captured him to share the good news of Christ, become St. Paddy’s Day about green beer and as much of that green beer as can be consumed? The liturgy on the street that I heard this morning was, “What is the queue like at that Off License?” The images on social media, the advertising campaigns for entertainment, the boxes of alcohol in student's arms today is as far from St. Patrick’s original spirit as we could ever have dreaded to be. 

I have listened to interviews on television and some are blaming the University authorities. Others are saying politicians need to do something. I have no doubt that everybody needs to make contribution but it needs to be clearly understood that this is now a deeply engrained problem, almost a rite of passage. This is what a section of our youth do on March 17th. Some cannot wait for next year already. Some sixteen year olds can’t wait for their turn. 

The truth is that the events in the Holy Lands is part of a wider social problem. These students who many believe should be declared criminals, and with good justification, are also the victims of a society where alcohol has become much too important to our leisure and social activities. In middle class schools in the leafier areas of South Belfast parents’ nights are built around bars and drink. Perhaps to paraphrase Jesus, a society that lives by drink will die by that drink.

Of course that alcohol abuse funds business. If we put the residents in the Holy Lands, who are locked in by fear, to the top of our priority list would we not close all the Off Licenses in the near vicinity? Why don’t we? Money? Or why don’t we do what Americans do to stop such student crisis, put the drinking age up to 21. In a few weeks I will be on University campuses in Ohio, Indiana and Michigan and the student years are all the better for not being able to drink. Why not? Or do we not want to take this that seriously?

This is going to take a changing of a current culture. It will take imagination. It will take big efforts. This year we did our wee bit to try and show an alternative. It will take time and patience to turn it around but it also needs big brave and radical decisions.

I also believe that the Church needs to play its part. We need to use the day to steal St. Patrick back from St. Paddy. Perhaps Protestant Churches have in recent decades given up their St. Patrick heritage. Well, it is time to claim it back. It is time to confess our complicity in St Paddy’s rise to drunken power and make our shared Saints day a time for spiritual celebration and the pumping of positive values of love for neighbour back into our community. It is a real opportunity to reconcile with our Catholic brothers and sisters to be make the kind of impact that the first Christian in Ireland made. Let’s get our heads and souls together.