Homily Notes of Archbishop Martin from the Mass for the Belgian school crash victims

23 Mar 2012

Homily Notes of Archbishop Martin from the Mass for the Belgian school crash victims

We all know from our own experience as children and from watching our own children or the children of our friends that one of the most important moments of any school trip is the homecoming.  There is a moment on a school trip when the bags are packed, the memories and the excitement retreat into the background, and the expectation moves to homecoming.  There is new excitement to tell parents and brothers and sisters all the things that happened.  Parents, on their part, are equally excited to hear the stories as they wait at airports or railway stations as their children tell their stories and then get back to the good things of everyday life at home.

It was thoughts of such moments that flooded my mind when I learned of the tragedy we are remembering here this evening. What should have been the final and joyful high point of a school skiing holiday, was not to be.  When I read the first headline early in the morning of March 13th that there had been an accident in a Swiss tunnel in which 28 people had died, 22 of them children, I was stunned.  Like many of us I had to read the headline twice to see if it was really true.

Instead of the happy homecoming there was news of a tragedy so heart-rending and dramatic that even well-experienced rescue workers were left without words.  I think of the loss which parents experienced.  Their pain must be immeasurable. I think of the injured.  I think of the survivors, young boys and girls at one of the tenderest ages of their lives, who experienced the horror of seeing their friends injured, trapped and even die.  The rescue workers say that silence descended in the tunnel.  That silence is our reaction here this evening.  Our first reading from the Book of Lamentations sums up our silence in the face of something we cannot on our own explain: “My soul is shut out from peace; I have forgotten happiness; my strength is gone”.

We have come this evening to pray and to express our solidarity with the people of Belgium and the Belgian Nation in this moment of grief.  We remember the children who died, with our only consolation being that the very innocence of their lives will ensure for them a special place with the Lord. Jesus held children as a special sign of the kingdom.  We remember the other deceased.  We pray for the injured. We pray for the families who have lost a young child, the single most tragic thing that can strike a parent.  I think of the sorrow they experienced as they saw the simple white coffins being borne by young Belgian soldiers, themselves heartbroken by the experience.  We remember especially the trauma of those children who survived. We give thanks for all those who worked in the rescue and the care of the injured.

What remains after such a tragedy?  Can there be an explanation?  Can there be consolation?  Part of what remains is where the holiday began: in community, school and parish.  It was in the school and the parish community to which these young people and their families belonged that the joy of the school holiday first sprung up.  Family and community have both been wounded, yet family and community are also where daily life once again begins.  We could see so clearly in the reaction of the community where the accident took place and in the home communities a maturity of mourning and a sense of solidarity which helps overcome the tragedy and move towards tomorrow.

The memory of the 28 dead will be commemorated not just through a monument, no matter how important that will be for those bereaved, but it will be remembered through the way in which a sense of goodness, love and caring will live on in parish and community, as a living memorial and a tribute to those who died.

The horrific death of innocent children stunned us all.  It has made us think.  There is a real sense in which watching a nation fall into silence, as happened in Belgium, calls all of us to step back from the hectic of our lives to reflect on the mysteries of life.

How could God permit this tragedy?  Why the hurt and pain and inexplicability of such an accident?  There are no answers, no explanations.  Perhaps the closest we can come to an understanding and a consolation is to reflect on the vital place of innocence and goodness and hope in life.   Even at that moment in which the goodness and innocence and hope of these children seemed to have been destroyed in death, goodness and innocence and hope appear as what remains and must be remembered.

All those touched by this tragedy need hope to look ahead and ensure that what was wonderful and beautiful in the lives of these young people and their generous teachers becomes part of the society we wish for ourselves and our young people.

Our reading from the Book of Lamentations ends by bringing us once again back to silence:  “It is good to wait in silence for the Lord to save”   The lamentation we heard at the beginning of the reading responds to the sense of grief we all experience.  Yet this is the lamentation also of the lamentation of the person of faith.  The person of faith feels the same pain and sense of abandonment as others; but even in the depths of almost despair, hope and trust in the goodness of the Lord begin to emerge in the soul that searches for him

May our trusting faith open for us the way to consolation and to a renewed commitment to live out own lives in goodness and innocence and hope.  In that sense let us reflect once more in the silence of our hearts and turn to Jesus who is our life.