13th Sunday of the Year 2016
MASS ON THE 20TH ANNIVERSARY OF THE MURDER OF VERONICA GUERIN RIP
Homily notes of Most Rev. Diarmuid Martin, Archbishop of Dublin
Church of Saint Nicholas of Myra, Kinsealy, 26th June 2016
“Michael Francis was the Catholic Archbishop of Monrovia in Liberia from 1981 to 2011. He founded the Catholic Justice and Peace Council in Liberia to defend human rights and civil liberty in that war-ravished country under the then President Charles Taylor.
At the installation of the first democratically elected President of Liberia at the end of the war, the new President said in her inaugural speech that her great regret was that “the conscience of our nation “ could not be present due to illness: the conscience of the nation was Archbishop Francis.
He was a quiet and tranquil man, but a man of great courage whom I was proud to know. I had asked him at one stage why Charles Taylor had not killed him. His reply was striking. He said “It may seem strange, but I feel I feel that he is afraid of me. Without boasting about myself”, he said, “I feel that there is something about integrity which frightens”. Integrity unnerves.
As the situation in Liberia later became more tense, President Taylor did then make many attempts to kill the Archbishop. But there is still something about that fact that integrity unnerves and that even if, in the end, the person of integrity falls victim to the corrupt, their integrity remains and can even become infectious and give others the courage to live with integrity no matter the risk.
Michael Francis, man of integrity, is remembered as the conscience of the nation. Charles Taylor, corrupt president, lies in prison serving a 50 year sentence. Integrity remains; corruption in the end brings its own condemnation and dishonour.
I thought of Archbishop Francis when I was asked to celebrate this Mass to remember and honour Veronica Guerin. Twenty years after her death she remains someone who showed integrity and courage and who all of us here today, especially Graham and Cathal, her friends and colleagues, are proud of what she did and there are many who over these years have been inspired by Veronica to become themselves ever more people of courage and integrity.
The democracy which we cherish requires honesty and integrity and not just individual integrity. The corrupt flourish in a society where complacency and turning-a-blind-eye flourish. We vilify democracy when we lack the courage and perseverance to call evil evil. We vilify the men and women of integrity when we fail to remember and support what they stood for. We honour the men and women of integrity when we show our own mettle. I have said on many occasions in the face of the current bout of violence in Dublin that the men and women of violence have two weapons in their armoury: their guns and our silence.
In our opening prayer of this Mass we were reminded that as followers of Jesus Christ we are called to be children of light, who are always seen to stand in the bright light of the truth. Light can be the distant light of a lighthouse, constantly there to warn of danger. There is also a light which exposes, which shows things as they are and enables us – challenges us – to discern and to do what is truthful and right.
In our Gospel reading we see that Jesus sets out on a journey, which is the beginning of a new chapter in his life and mission. It is no ordinary journey, but the beginning of a path to Jerusalem and the culmination of his mission on earth, a journey marked by a new determination. He sets out “resolutely, we are told. You win the fight against evil only with determination and resoluteness. A society which responds only half-heartedly will end up, to use the words of Saint Paul in our second reading, leaving us “snapping at each other and tearing each other to pieces” “destroying the whole community”
Jesus’ journey points to the loneliness of those who follow the path of integrity. A first characteristic of his journey is that it is a journey without the comforts and the stability of normal life. The Son of Man does not even have a place to lay his head. Jesus no longer belongs anywhere; he is embarking on a journey marked by unknowns and precariousness, with less security than even the rudimentary sense of home which belongs to birds and foxes. That is so often journey of the courageous.
Jesus journeys resolutely and but on his way he meets some on the road who wish in some way to follow him, but we see that Jesus sets a remarkably high threshold of commitment for those who wish to spread the news of the kingdom of God. The Christian message is spread not just by words, but a life which marked by radical integrity of life in line with the Gospel.
We remember Veronica Guerin twenty years after her murder. We remember her not as a news story of the past, but as an example for today. We have uncompromisingly to expose and condemn the horrible violence and corruption of those who are involved in the traffic of death and disregard for life which is the drugs trade. We have to support the work of the Gardaí and law enforcement in fighting this traffic of death. Those who are involved in this disgusting and despicable industry will still attempt to silence anyone who has the courage to call evil evil. We must not let them overcome.
President Charles Taylor was sentenced by an international tribunal and is serving 50 years in prison especially for his involvement in his corrupt regime of child soldiers. This is recognised as one of the most ignominious of war crimes. I was struck today at an article showing how young children were being dragged into the drug trade in Dublin and forced to remain in it at an early age. Having the blood of children on your hands renders a person contemptable and shameful, a shame that will remain with them no matter how powerful they think they are.
Veronica Guerin in the ultimate sacrifice of giving her life for her convictions shows us that her death is not the last word but rather that her integrity lives on and challenges us. Veronica’s family and friends here today can be proud of what she did and of the courage and determination she showed. She paid a high price and her family and friends suffered an unimaginable loss. Her integrity gives her still today a noble place our recent history. We pray that she enjoys peace with the Lord; but we know that even in heaven Veronica’s peace will not be a passive one, but will be coupled with that restless spirit which was her trade-mark to see her work brought to fulfilment – by us.