The first female bishop in the UK and Ireland has empathised with those commemorating the 1916 Easter Rising in Dublin – but also asked them to “love their enemies” and look past commemoration of death to the mending of national relationships.
Bishop of Meath and Kildare, Pat Storey, was speaker yesterday at the Annual 1916 Commemoration Ceremony at the Church of the Most Sacred Heart in Arbour Hill, adjoining the cemetery in which 14 of the executed 1916 rising leaders are buried.
It is not a part of my story but I want to try and understand itBishop Pat Storey
Addressing Taoiseach Enda Kenny, Irish President Michael D Higgins, Sinn Fein president Gerry Adams and other dignitaries, Ms Storey said she was “surprised” to have been invited to speak as “a female Northern Protestant” to a “Catholic, Republican commemoration”.
Church of Ireland Archbishop Michael Jackson addressed the event several years ago but Ms Storey is the first female bishop to do so.
She told guests it is “vital” to remember what took place 99 years ago at the rising.
President Higgins led a ceremony on Tuesday in memory of 40 children who died in the violence.
“For relatives here, this is a vital and a poignant moment,” she said. “We come to remember our loved ones, and indeed the manner in which they lost their lives.
“We remember, too, the women and children who died in the same event and who are often left out of the story.
“We remember with sadness all lost lives. And we come too, to mend, and to take our part in mending. How do we do that? Thank God, the time for tearing down in our country has virtually finished, but the time for mending has really only just begun.”
She confessed that it was difficult for her to imagine what it is like to be a relative of someone who died.
“It is not a part of my story. But I want, and I need, to try to understand it. I need to walk in your shoes generously. That means listening when I would rather speak; hearing your story when I would rather tell mine; relating to the commemorations of your community when I would rather remember wrongs done to mine.”
Like many of her audience, she said, she remembers “waking up every morning, particularly through the Seventies, to death”.
She added: “I do not believe that there is anyone who wants to go back to that. We reeked of death. I passionately believe that this is a time for resurrection.
“In the original Easter Rising of our faith, Jesus showed us a different way – one of hope and healing.”
Pragmatically, leading the way forward is not going to be easy, she added.
“If we want to do what Jesus radically instructed in our gospel reading this morning: ‘love your enemies, and do good to those that hate you’; you will be aware, I am certain, that it is the most difficult thing on earth to even be willing to forgive past wrongs done to you.”
She challenged her audience to go further than commemorating the dead – and to reach out to her community.
“So are you in? Or are you out? Will you be in the business of mending? Will you commit to listening generously to the other? As we go forward, will you be standing at the point of resurrection, or at the point of death?”
She added: “I am deeply sorry for the lives lost in our country’s history – for lives lost in the Easter Rising and in more recent years.
“But I do not want to end our history there. I cannot let death, or even commemoration, have the last word. I am in this for the long haul: mending; generosity; resurrection. And that is what it will take.”
Ms Storey finished with a quote from US President Barack Obama: ‘Change will not come if we wait for some other person or some other time. We are the ones we’ve been waiting for. We are the change that we seek’.
She closed: “Are you willing to be the change that Ireland is waiting for?”