In the days after the Twelfth this year a perusal of the different media gave a variety of different perspectives on how it had been. Unionist-leaning websites gave evidence of a happy family day out, in the sun, at Keady, Ballymena and elsewhere. More nationalist-inspired media made much of an ugly incident outside a Catholic church in Belfast. Above all, of course, there were those horrible scenes of mayhem, that could have included murder, at the Ardoyne shops.
There was something visceral about some of the voices from both communities at Ardoyne and it was along the lines of: ‘Why do they hate us so much?’ ‘What have we done to deserve this?’ It was two communities at each other’s throat, each with a very deep sense of grievance. It seemed to me that the moral victor, the winner, was going to be the group with the greatest grievance. It was all very sad. However, in a certain way I think it does us all a favour because it expresses something that is at the heart of our unionist/nationalist divide here.
All of us will acknowledge that over the decades and, indeed, the centuries of strife there have been ugly things done and said on all sides. We can all agree on that. But, sadly we feel the need to go on: Who takes the ultimate blame? Who has the ultimate right to feel aggrieved? They would be the ‘winner’.
It is all about our history. There is an urgent need for us all to look at our history and begin to understand rather than demonise the ‘other side’? We need to ask ourselves: ‘Why, in the past, did ‘their’ forebears do the things they did? Make the choices they made? Why do ‘they’ now celebrate the things they celebrate?’ It is possible and helpful to try and understand other people even if I continue not to agree with them – especially if I continue not to agree with them. The ‘other’ is basically a good person, even if I think they are misguided.
There is a challenging statement about our two communities that we could do well to repeat to ourselves until it sinks in: ‘These are my neighbours and, rightly or wrongly, they believe that my community has wronged them more than they have wronged us.’ It is a statement that packs a punch and it is so important that I am going to repeat it: ‘These are my neighbours and, rightly or wrongly, they believe that my community has wronged them more than they have wronged us.’ You may well want to laugh out loud. ‘They couldn’t really believe that!’ you may say. They almost certainly do!
‘These are my neighbours!’ The Christian call is to love my neighbour as I love myself. The first step in my effort to love my neighbour is to try and understand him!
Is this too much to ask!? It certainly is a very big ask.
But, don’t forget. Many of us here have the audacity to claim that we live under the influence of a power infinitely greater than ourselves.
Alan McGuckian, SJ
Alan McGuckian is a Jesuit priest and a native of Cloughmills in Co Antrim. He was director for many years of the Jesuit Communication Centre in Dublin and he has wide experience in media and publishing in both English and Irish. With Philip Orr he co-authored the recent play “One Hundred Years On”, sponsored by Contempoary Christianity, about the Ulster Covenant.