The Most Rev. Robin Eames, the former Primate of All Ireland, played a key role in the Northern Ireland peace process. In Unfinished Search (Columba Press), a newly published autobiography, he recalls the aftermath of the Irish Republican Army Enniskillen bombing on Nov. 8, 1987.
“Archbishop, where is God in all of this?” a nurse asked him.
Eleven people (ten civilians and a police officer) died in the County Fermanagh blast, and 63 were injured. This outrage was considered the turning point in Northern Ireland’s Troubles (1968-98). Support for the IRA plummeted after it said the deaths were a mistake. The targets, the IRA said, were soldiers and not civilians.
“My recollections of that day remain vivid,” he writes. “No course in pastoral theology could possibly have prepared a person for the demands presented by those hours in the hospital.
“In all honesty, the urgency of that day removed any lofty presumptions of theology to what we were doing. Few tried to reason out the doctrinal or theological approaches to such crying human need. You reacted to requests or you did what you thought appropriate: thinking about it would come later … much later.”
He describes how volunteers set up a table to provide tea when an off-duty nurse, one of the first to arrive at the hospital, asked her question, one often asked by people struggling to make sense of human suffering.
“For me in my own pilgrimage with all its continuing questions and degrees of revealed truth, I have turned to the biblical accounts of Holy Week and the Resurrection. Above all other passages of scripture, the final weeks of Christ’s earthly ministry and especially the events at Calvary have given most relevance to my experience. This I have found in personal reflection and periods of spiritual heart-searching.
“With my memories of ministry during the Troubles it was the Passion, suffering and resurrection of Christ which spoke most clearly to me as an individual. When faced with tragic situations it was there I found most understanding of ‘the God in all this.’ One of the dangers of Christian ministry lies in having a neat and seemingly certain explanation for every eventuality of daily.”
The Troubles, he writes, “called for a suffering Church alongside a suffering community, but also a Church prepared to point the way forward towards hope. Sharing in the suffering of Calvary helped the believer to sense something of the glory of Easter Day. Sharing in the suffering of all those ‘Enniskillens’ called the Church to point towards a resurrection in ways that could make an ultimate sense of it all.”