(this is my review and reflection on the new book about Fr Alec Reid. It was published last week in the Irish News, the first in a new column that Fr Martin Magill and I will be writing regularly)
I was at a planning event for a Christian NGO. It was solely Protestant leaders. One of the exercises had us all write on a sheet, along one wall, the events of the world and of Northern Ireland since 1968. We were than asked in our groups to analyse the timeline. I immediately noticed the glaring omission. Fr Alec Reid did not appear anywhere.
That a group of Christian leaders would overlook the most significant Christian contributor to the peace process is profound. It sadly betrayed the Church’s complicity in our Troubles. Many in the room might not have defined Fr Alec as a Christian; he was a Catholic! It has been this cold war across denominational theological differences that has mirrored the violence on our streets and made the Christian Churches impotent in their vocation as peacemakers.
Last month a new book about Fr Alec’s life was published called One Man, One God and written by Martin McKeever, Redemptorist Professor of Moral Theology in Rome. McKeever’s book is divided into three; the storyline of Fr Alec’s life and peace ministry, tributes to Fr Alec’s life and finally some of Fr Alec’s own documents and writings.
McKeever’s genius is to take second and third parts of the book and weave a sharp theological commentary of Fr Alec’s ministry in that first biographical section.
When I closed the book I stared at the photo on the back cover. It is that iconic photograph of a shocked priest lying over the bodies of those British soldiers on that tragic March day back in 1988. In that photograph I found everything McKeever teaches us through Fr. Alec’s life.
In this photo we see a servant of Christ, a man following Jesus. He is following Jesus on the bloody streets of the conflict around him. This is incarnation; God coming alive, through his servant, in our neighbourhoods. Fr Alec believed that he needed the Holy Spirit and that everywhere that dialogue was happening the Holy Spirit was there. In his pocket, in that photograph, is the letter from Gerry Adams to John Hume with the conditions to start talks towards peace, peace that came slowly through the Good Friday Agreement and IRA decommissioning many years later. The soldiers blood was on the envelope. It is a remarkable story.
Fr Alec had his political preferences but selflessly, and most inspirationally for us all, it was his pastoral compassion that dictated how he lived - “My interest is not political but pastoral and moral… My only aim is to help those who, if the present situation continues, will be killed, injured or imprisoned over the next few weeks and months.” Here was a man as prepared to put his life on the line to save two British soldiers as he was the hunger strikers he ministered to in 1981.
Anyone who claims to in any way stumble or tumble after Jesus would benefit from this book’s reflection on Fr Alec Reid’s life, faith and ministry.