Former President Mary McAleese launched the JOY BELLS peal in Christ Church Cathedral, Waterford at 11 a.m. yesterday, March 19th, triggering bell-ringing around the world in solidarity with immigrants and to raise a voice against racism and xenophobia.
This is what she said:
“It is almost two years since the bells of Christchurch last rang out. Later this morning that long silence will be broken and for generations to come the refurbished bells will do what they have done for generations past, they will ring to call the faithful to prayer, they will peal on wedding days, they will toll on funeral days, they will mark time, but today is different for when they peal from 11 until noon it will not simply be to announce that they are back.
Today they send out a message to our troubled and troubling world.
To quote Longfellow these “Church bells are the voice of the Church” and that voice is saying loud and clear that there is but one human race and every member of it is equal in dignity, entitled to respect and from Christians, entitled to expect the love that Christ commanded us to offer one another.
The bells are drowning out the siren voices of racial and religious intolerance which are playing havoc with the lives of so many of God’s human family, making mothers and fathers heartsick and frightened for their children and for their future.
Today for an hour the bells of Christ Church Waterford will ring a message of joy, of welcome, of tolerance which we hope will reach the ears of the world’s refugees and immigrants, giving them faith in the solidarity of our common humanity, giving them confidence in the future. The bells will tell of the great mystery at the core of human existence, that while we are capable of inflicting misery on one another we have an inexhaustible capacity for goodness. The bells are calling us to that goodness.
Hundreds of Christian Churches all over this island and across the globe with many from other faiths and none, are joining us today, to make sure that message of loving tolerance reaches into as many hearts and minds as possible, challenging those who harbor hatred, racism and sectarianism to think again, challenging those who believe in love and tolerance to say so loudly and proudly. This is no time for silence. There is a tide of malice and misery to be turned. If we are not to be consumed by it then we must confront it, name it, shame it and proclaim the transcendent, the enduring power of the commandment to love our neighbor as ourselves,
We proclaim it in the name of Patrick, the trafficked child kidnapped from his home and brought to a foreign land to work as a slave. We say it in the name of Patrick who escaped and became a refugee, in the name of Patrick who returned to Ireland as an immigrant, the most successful immigrant to Ireland of all time. We insist on tolerance for the refugee, for the immigrant, for the stranger among us, in the name of the millions of Irish, of our own people who knew the hardship and the hurt of being refugees from famine, poverty and violence, who lived the lonely emigrant life in places where they were not welcome, who transcended unjust stereotypes about the Irish, who made good lives, proved their worth and who made us proud. We insist on tolerance for the immigrants and refugees who have made Ireland their homes, bringing the rich diversity of new cultures, faith and perspectives to our society, some living with trauma we cannot imagine, all living with that emigrant heartache for their homelands but pushing through with courage and determination and hope in us- hope that the promise of the hundred thousand welcomes is not a fairy story.
We ring the bells for all those who are on the move today fleeing famine, war, lack of opportunity and whose lives could be so simply transformed by a smile and a helping hand.
We have the chance to make Ireland a light to the world in the example of tolerance and inclusion we give. There will be more refugees, more huge movements of people uprooted by violence, poverty, famine and despair. There but for the grace of God go any of us.
We have had our day on this island of bigotry and prejudice and we know their tragic cost, their sheer wastefulness. We have made peace, built bridges, committed to partnership and parity of esteem. These are noble things, learnable things, and they have helped us navigate a passage through the toxic debris that history cast ahead of us.
We have learnt that we can live with difference and diversity, in fact we have learnt the hard way that that there is no other way to live humanly, safely and happily. We the children of Reformation and Counterreformation are joined today as one voice made up of many tones, like the bells themselves, but sending one singularly important shared message.
It was medieval Irish monks evangelizing throughout Europe who spread the practice of ringing church bells so it is particularly fitting on this St. Patrick’s weekend, as the first group of Syrian refugees settle into beautiful Bellaghadereen, that Ireland’s oldest city, founded by Viking invaders, scene of many upheavals in its eleven centuries, should tell of it has learnt and what it believes, through what Victor Hugo called the dazzling tumult of bells. It’s an ancient message, not new just underused and St Patrick put it succinctly
Christ in the heart of every man who thinks of me,
Christ in the mouth of everyone who speaks of me,
Christ in every eye that sees me,
Christ in every ear that hears me.
For every refugee standing in a bleak line for food, for every child packing a bag to face the future in a foreign land, there is one question in their hearts and minds- who will help me, where will help come from. The psalmist answered it aeons ago and it is the same answer still; «My help comes from the Lord,
the Maker of heaven and earth»(121:1-2)
The help comes through us for we are not just the work of his hands. We are the hands of His work. The bell-ringers will pull the ropes, the Joy Bells will peal here and across the world. Wherever they ring their message is clear. There is but one human family and its children will thrive wherever there is love.”