Faith Matters

A thought from the 4 Corners - Steve Stockman: Fr Alec Reid put his life on the line for peace

Fr Alec Reid put his life on the line for peace, says Rev Steve Stockman

Fr Alec Reid, photographed at Clonard Monastery on March 20 1988, the day after he gave the Last Rites to Corporal David Howes and Corporal Derek Wood
Steve Stockman

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 simply because he was a Catholic.

This cold war across denominational theological differences has mirrored the violence on our streets and made the Christian Churches impotent in their vocation as peacemakers.

A new book tells the story of this remarkable man's life. One Man, One God: The Peace Ministry of Fr Alec Reid has been written by a fellow Redemptorist, Fr Martin McKeever, who is a 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 the 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.

Fr Alec Reid at the Clonard Novena in 2012. Picture by Mal McCann

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.

  • One Man, One God: The Peace Ministry of Fr Alec Reid by Fr Martin McKeever is published by Redemptorist Communications. It can be ordered here, by emailing or telephoning 00353 1 4922 488.
  • The Rev Steve Stockman is minister of Fitzroy Presbyterian Church in Belfast and, with Fr Martin Magill, is a founder of the 4 Corners Festival, which aims to promote unity and reconciliation in the midst of Belfast's - and Ireland's - troubled past.

The Rev Steve Stockman, pictured left, with Fr Martin Magill, administrator of Ballyclare.

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