20 July 2011
Homily of Bishop Edward Daly, Retired Bishop of Derry for funeral Mass of Lawrence McElhinney, St Patrick’s Church, Pennyburn, Derry
(Gospel John 19; 16-30)
St John’s description of the crucifixion of Jesus is very powerful and poignant. John stood on Calvary on that day of days – he was a witness of that terrible event. It was etched on his mind for the rest of his life. He wrote his gospel many years afterwards and he recounted that day on Calvary. He describes the cruelty of it all, the deliberate humiliation of Jesus, the way he was scoffed at by Pilate and his soldiers. They could not even bring themselves to respect Jesus in death.
And then John writes about Mary, the mother of Jesus and her profound grief as she stood by helplessly witnessing the murder of her son. It is a scene that has inspired countless writers, artists and sculptors culminating in Michelangelo’s wonderful Pietà, featuring Mary tenderly embracing the body of her son, Jesus after he was taken down from the cross – the mother and her dead son.
Those last moments of Jesus feature in the Stations of the Cross which are mounted on the walls of almost every Catholic Church. As well as a reminder of the Passion of Christ, they offer a powerful reflection on the suffering of so many bereaved families down through the centuries.
Lawrence McElhinney was the last surviving parent of the people who were murdered on Bloody Sunday. For the last 39 years, he has lived with the grief of the murder of his son, Kevin. I often feel that not enough attention has been paid to the parents of the many victims of our conflict here. The grief of a parent who loses a son or daughter is a particular kind of grief. It is not in the natural scheme of things that a son or daughter should die before a parent. It is a certainly not in the natural scheme of things that a parent should experience the murder or violent death of their son or daughter.
Some of my most poignant memories of those terrible years of conflict were the experiences of breaking terrible news to unsuspecting parents and the grief that they subsequently experienced. Some of my most heartbreaking memories are recalling the grief of parents at funerals. I think of the searing grief of Mrs Kelly, who went to the cemetery every day for the years after her son Michael was murdered. I think of Mrs McGavigan, the mother of Annette – on the afternoon of Monday 6 September 1971, I had to break the news to her that her lovely 14 years old daughter, Annette had been shot dead a few moments earlier, after she had just returned home from school. I remember making my way up Creggan Hill from the cathedral on another Wednesday morning a few weeks earlier, 18 August 1971, to tell Mrs Lafferty that her son, Eamonn, an IRA volunteer had been killed. I remember Mrs Margaret Ryan of Leeds, an Irish woman whose son, Michael Ryan, was a soldier killed in Derry two weeks before I was ordained as bishop on St Patrick’s Day 1974 – she wrote a long heartbroken letter to me one year later – her sorrow was the same as that of a Derry mother. Who could forget the eloquent and powerful grief of Gordon Wilson when his young daughter, Marie, a nurse, was murdered beside him in the Enniskillen Remembrance Sunday bombing in November 1987? I could go on and on recalling the grief of a parent whose child was murdered or died in a violent manner. When the ultimate history of our conflict is written, I hope that the parents of victims will be given their rightful place. Theirs is and was a unique sadness, a special degree of sadness and loss, the intensity of which can often be forgotten by the rest of us.
That was the grief that Lawrence experienced and suffered for so many years. Thankfully, he lived to see the publication of the Saville Report last year. Just a few weeks ago, in the Hospice, I spoke to him about that day. It meant so much to him. He talked about the great sadness and void introduced into his life by Kevin’s murder and the great sadness too, at the death of his wife Roisin.
Lawrence worked all his life as a mechanic with Ulsterbus and was proud of his work. He was proud of his family and they were very devoted to him. He was very involved in and committed to the work and activities of the Bloody Sunday families in their search for justice. He loved to chat and he liked music. He attended the Vigil Mass in this church every Saturday evening. Lawrence was a good, decent, dignified, honourable and delightful man who lived in Philip Street for all of his life.
I express my sincere sympathy to his family – to his daughters, Jean, Joyce and Roslyn, to his son Cahal and his sister, Eva. I pray that the Lord may comfort you all in your great loss.
In the gospel of St John, the last words of Jesus were ‘It is accomplished’. Lawrence died quietly and peacefully in his own home on Sunday evening. He was ready to die. Looking back on his life, he, too could say, ‘It is accomplished’.
We ask the Lord to grant his gentle soul rest.
+ Edward Daly
Notes to Editor
- Lawrence was the father of Kevin McElhinney who was aged 17 when he was murdered.
- He was the last surviving parent of those killed in Derry on Bloody Sunday, 30 January 1972, and the only parent who survived until the publication of the Saville Report last year
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