Faith Matters

The fearless love of Fr Hugh Mullan and Fr Noel Fitzpatrick, Ballymurphy's martyred priests

The example of Fr Hugh Mullan and Fr Noel Fitzpatrick continues to inspire and is worthy of sainthood, says Fr Patrick McCafferty

Fr Patrick McCafferty

The final resting place of Fr Hugh Mullan in Portaferry, Co Down, where he was born. He was shot and killed in the Ballymurphy Massacre as he ministered an injured man

THE inquest examining the deaths of 10 people killed in west Belfast in August 1971 might have brought the Ballymurphy Massacre to wider attention, but their families, friends and community have never forgotten their loved ones.

They were killed during a long period of intense sectarian violence which claimed many lives.

Among the dead were two Down and Connor diocesan priests, Fr Hugh Mullan and Fr Noel Fitzpatrick.

Their courageous witness is being remembered with a new prayer. It is being offered so that their heroic example may be more widely known and therefore encourage God's people, while others may be inspired to serve in the priesthood and religious life. There is also the prayerful hope that they may be officially recognised and celebrated, in the Universal Church, as saints of God.

Fr Hugh Mullan was shot dead as he ministered to a wounded man on August 9 1971 during the Ballymurphy Massacre; exactly 11 months later, on July 11 1972, Fr Noel Fitzpatrick died in the same circumstances, during the Westrock-Springhill Massacre.

The Church views martyrdom as an 'extraordinary grace' - so much so, that when it is accepted that a person is truly a martyr, the requirement of miracles for canonisation can be waived

Fr Mullan had been striving to secure some protection from the authorities for his parishioners whose lives and homes were in danger from sectarian attacks.

Sadly, his efforts were in vain. About half an hour before he died, he received a phone call from a British army official whom he had hoped would use his influence to defuse a very fraught and dangerous situation.

When he hung up, Fr Mullan said to a parishioner: "We're on our own." No help was forthcoming.

Minutes later, he was shot dead as he anointed Bobby Clarke, who had been wounded while helping others to safety. Mr Clarke survived; Frank Quinn, who was helping Fr Mullan, was also killed.

Later, Fr Fitzpatrick, accompanied by a parishioner, Paddy Butler, was waving a white handkerchief as he attempted to reach wounded men during sustained and heavy gunfire.

But the handkerchief offered no protection. In what has become known as the Westrock-Springhill Massacre, Fr Fitzpatrick and Mr Butler were shot dead, as well as three teenagers: Margaret Gargan (13), David McCafferty (15) and John Dougal (16).

People whose loved ones died in the Springhill-Westrock Massacre in July 1972 make their way with Corpus Christi parish priest Fr Patrick McCafferty to a wreath-laying ceremony. Among those killed was Fr Noel Fitzpatrick. Picture by Pacemaker Press

Bishop of Down and Connor Noel Treanor launched the prayer remembering these brave priests in St Peter's Cathedral on May 12.

In their ordinary daily ministry as priests serving the people of Corpus Christi - which was, in the early 1970s, still part of St John's Parish - Fr Hugh and Fr Noel are remembered for their goodness and kindness to their parishioners.

They were true pastors. The Lord has promised His people not simply shepherds but "shepherds after my own heart" (Jeremiah 3:15); and in Jesus, we have the Good Shepherd who "lays down his life for his sheep" (John 10:11).

In undramatic ways, Fr Mullan and Fr Fitzpatrick laid down their lives daily for God's people by preaching His Word and ministering Christ in His Sacraments to them, as well as sharing their day-to-day joys and sorrows.

However, events on the streets where they lived and served became very much out of the ordinary, leading them far beyond the mere 'call of duty'.

In answering that call, the two priests were not found in any way wanting.

Fr Hugh Mullan and Fr Noel Fitzpatrick did not think of themselves or their own safety when people entrusted to their pastoral care by the Lord were under threat. With God's help and grace, they went into the hail of bullets

Among the Church's saints, those who faced terrors and tortures, shedding their blood for the faith, are afforded especial honour and esteem.

The Church views martyrdom as an "extraordinary grace" - so much so, that when it is accepted that a person is truly a martyr, the requirement of miracles for canonisation can be waived.

In the midst of grave danger, the normal instinct is 'fight or flight'; one will seek to preserve one's own life by getting away from danger, or fight back against those who are attacking.

Fr Mullan and Fr Fitzpatrick did not think of themselves or their own safety when people entrusted to their pastoral care by the Lord were under threat.

With God's help and grace, they went into the hail of bullets. They would not abandon the injured and the dying. They showed that "greater love" about which the Lord speaks (John 15:13).

Fr Hugh and Fr Noel died for the priesthood. They shed their blood in witness to pastoral love. Both of them followed the logic of the Mass they celebrated every day.

For, at every Mass, the sacrificial love of the Lord, by which He defeated Death, is present on the Altar; and, from the Altar, Jesus gives us the gift of His entire self in the Eucharist.

Fr Hugh Mullan

Fr Noel Fitzpatrick

Fr Mullan and Fr Fitzpatrick, with their innocent companions who were mercilessly killed, are witnesses that the Lord never abandons His people and that, in every moment, He provides for and leads them - "even in the valley of the shadow of death" (Psalm 23:4).

In Hebrews 13:7, we read: "Remember your leaders who preached the Word of God to you and, as you reflect on the outcome of their lives, imitate their faith."

The 'outcome' of a life of faith is eternal life - victory over death itself; this is the lesson that Fr Mullan and Fr Fitzpatrick continue to teach us.

As Pope Benedict XVI observed, "The Lord wins in the end." Death, hatred, injustice and terror do not win.

The Troubles, which began 50 years ago and resulted in such sorrow and heartbreak for our entire community, did not - and will not - win.

The fearless love shown by Fr Mullan and Fr Fitzpatrick continues to teach and bear witness to this truth. Love wins. The Lord wins.

Fr Patrick McCafferty is parish priest of Corpus Christi, Ballymurphy.

Prayer in memory of Fr Hugh Mullan and Fr Noel Fitzpatrick

Father,

You look with compassion on all your people; Your Son has united us inseparably, in the Holy Spirit, with your infinite love and mercy.

Nothing can separate us from your love, neither terror nor violence; nor even death itself.

Inspired by the courageous fidelity of your priests, Fr Hugh Mullan and Fr Noel Fitzpatrick, who, in the midst of great danger, gave their lives as they ministered to the injured and dying, may we, strengthened by your Word and your Sacraments, love you and all our brothers and sisters, carrying each other's burdens, until we all come to Eternal Life.

Through Christ our Lord.

Amen.

Wreaths are laid at a mural for the Springhill-Westrock Massacre. Picture by Ann McManus

Enjoy reading the Irish News?

Subscribe from just £1 for the first month to get full access

Today's horoscope

Horoscope


See a different horoscope: