Moving tributes were paid today to Father Alec Reid, the Redemptorist priest who played a key role in stimulating the Northern Ireland peace process that led eventually to the Belfast Agreement.
He was remembered fondly at his funeral Mass by both his Order and by his partner in the search for peace in Northern Ireland, former president of the Methodist Church in Ireland, the Rev Harold Good, who referred to him consistently as “my very personal friend and brother in Christ”.
In a eulogy, the Rev Good, who attended the Mass in the Redemptorist Marianelle Chapel in Rathgar, Dublin with his wife, Clodagh, praised Fr Reid’s “unrelenting, unselfish and uncompromising commitment to the search for peace”.
The two men oversaw talks between the former SDLP leader, John Hume, and the Sinn Féin president, Gerry Adams, who attended the funeral, which led eventually to the Belfast Agreement and the decommissioning of IRA weapons, overseen by Fr Reid and the Rev Good.
“I will never forget that moment when we stood quietly and witnessed the very last moments of that decommissioning process, and Fr Alec said quietly in my ear ‘there goes the last gun out of Irish politics’. What a moment!” recalled Rev Good.
He and Fr Reid enjoyed many of the same pleasures and “felt very secure in each other’s company”. However, Rev Good recalled that Fr Reid often said “particularly in the wrong place” that he would like to nominate the Rev Good as the next Pope, to which the Rev Good would reply: “Alec, do you not think I’m in trouble enough?”
He continued: “Fr Alec and I were fellow travellers on a much more important journey, the most important of all journeys: we shared our journey of faith. We were fellow pilgrims, often stumbling but pilgrims seeking to walk in the footsteps of Jesus, the same Jesus who called each of us in our way as young men into a ministry of reconciliation. . .
“We shared a passion for peace, peace with justice, a passion for the sanctity of every human life, a passion for an end to bigotry and bitterness, a passion for the healing of our land, a passion for a Christ centred solution to the conflict.”
“He would just smile and say ‘Leave it to the Holy Spirit’ and I would say, ‘Alec, I think you are pushing him too hard’. And how right he was proved to be in all of those situations.”
Bidding farewell to Fr Reid, the Rev good said: “May I offer you my blessing? Go forth my friend, go forth upon your journey from this world – in the name of the Father who created you; in the name of the Son who has redeemed you; in the name of the Holy Spirit who has sanctified you; and all the people of God, aided by angles and archangels of the whole company of heaven, my your journey now bring you to a place of real and lasting peace, the peace that you so richly deserve. Thank you and bless you.”
Earlier in the funeral Mass, similarly warm tribute was paid by the Redemptorist Provincial, Fr Michael Kelleher, who said it was impossible to understand Fr Alec separate from his faith. The passage from St John’s gospel – “the word was made flesh and lived amongst us” – was central to Fr Alec’s understanding of peacemaking, he said.
“The only way that you can answer the question ‘who was Father Alec Reid?’ was to understand him as a man of faith, as a man of God. It is not really possible to understand Fr Alec’s life and work without taking God, and Fr Alec’s faith in God, into account. Fr Alec saw himself as a servant of Christ in a situation of conflict. . . For Fr Alec the primary role of the servant of Christ in a situation of conflict is to be the pastoral agent of the Holy Spirit in the midst of the conflict, to be in some ways the channel, the instrument of the Holy Spirit.”
During his efforts to secure peace, which he ran from the Clonard Monestary in west Belfast, Fr Reid was often asked who he represented during his peace efforts, said Fr Kelleher.
“Fr Alec would simple say that he represented the next person who was going to be killed or hurt in the conflict in the North.”
He continued: “For Fr Alec this was, and is, the crucial scriptural guideline for the serving Christian in a situation of conflict. He or she must, like Jesus, become personally involved in its full flesh and blood humanity until he or she knows it by heart in all its reality. Fr Alec saw himself as doing that, as becoming personally involved in the conflict’s full flesh and blood humanity until he knew it by hears in all its reality. The picture of Fr Alec with the two corporals murdered by the IRA when they took a wrong turn in Belfast in 1988 and became trapped is an example of that. He literally has blood on his face; why? Because he was giving the kiss of life to one of those two men.”
Music at the funeral was provided by piper Kevin Rowsome, flautist Cormac Breathnach, cellist Naoise Rowsome and harpist Tierna Rowsome.
Fr Reid was born in 1931, ordained in 1957 and died on Friday. He was named after a grandfather who converted to Catholicism in order to marry.
The chief mourners were his sisters, Maura Litster and Margaret O’Meara, and his aunt Ita, together with his colleagues in the Redemptorist Order.
The funeral was attended by President Higgins and his wife, Sabina. The Taoiseach was represented by his aide de camp, Comdt Alan Bulger.
Other mourners included former foreign minister Dermot Ahern, Mrs Kathleen Reynolds, wife ogf the former Taoiseach Albert Reynolds, and two of their daughters, Cathy and Miriam, former minister of state Martin Mansergh, former government chief whip, Tom Kitt, former secretary general at the department of justice, Tim Dalton, former Fine Gael TD Lucinda Creighton and her husband Senator Paul Bradford, Fr Michael Darcy, retired journalist and author Deaglan de Breadun, and journalist Vincent Browne.
The US ambassador was represented by the embassy’s charge d’affairs, Stuart Dwyer.
With Mr Adams was his spokesman of long-standing Richael McAuley, and the party’s deputy leader, Mary Lou McDonald.