Now I'm a Catholic School teacher married with three lovely children.
At the very start of the troubles in Northern Ireland,my family were not in anyway involved or concerned with politics but as the war started many families like mine were dragged in as the burnings and killings swept across Nortern Ireland.Our home was attacked by a gang with a bomb on one occasion and we had to escape later on without possessions when we were chased from our home completely because of further intimidation and threats.As a young boy I grew up with a seething resentment against all those,especially the British who had,as I believed ,been partly responsible for the mayhem in Ireland.Well, I grew up against the backdrop of an armed insurrection by the IRA against the British Army.I studied Irish History and the more I did ,I believed that the British presence in Ireland was the source of all our ills.I decided as a young man to join the The IRA and fight them out of Ireland.However,I never realised how much I would be consumed with hatred and loathing.I became a man possessed with the deire to kill at any price.I was also a student at university at the time studying Russian Studies.I began to see the Catholic Church as part of the greater enemy ,the repressive system than collaborated with the the'Brits'.My training in the IRA was mostly with rifles,I was trained as a sniper in IRA training camps.Trained to kill.
One day,we ambushed an army patrol and I shot a man who was beside the army vehicle.As we escaped,on a motor bike, we encountered an unexpected army patrol from our rear.A soldier later claimed in court that he was about to shoot me when the bike crashed and went out of control.Thank God that it did!
I was arrested and for seven days refused to co operate with my police.I was charged with 5 attempted murders and sent to a remand prison in Belfast.God has a great sense of humour because the cell that I was a prisoner in overlooks the Classroom where I teach young boys about the love of Jesus!! My school is next door to the Crumlin Road jail.
I was eventually sentenced to 12 years in jail.Relatively light because my Mum,totally against my wishes, spoke to the judge about how we had suffered earlier in the troubles.This Mum was to be a major influence in my conversion through her constant prayers.
However,I still was a dedicated IRA man in jail and continued to plan and scheme against the authorities.
One day in Easter of 1984, a Mill Hill Priest called Paddy Kenny came to jail to say Mass. Mass for us in the jail was just an opportunity to meet each other ,swop things and pass on messages but this guy was different to any Priest who had come in to us.He spoke with authority.He challenged us.He told us about the massive love that Jesus had for sinners like us.He told us the story of Our Lady appearing in Medjugorje,an age of wonderful Grace in which terrible sinners could be washed clean in the Blood of the Lamb.He quoted from Isaiah ch.1 'Though your sins be scarlet I will make them white as snow..'
I spoke to him after the Mass and ,initially tried to convert him to my thinking but God had a plan.Slowly,painfully and slowly I found myself wondering and thinking about these words.There was truth in this man,integrity, honesty.He spoke passionately and I think that very day he sowed a seed.Over the next weeks and months,as I contemplated this, encountered other priests,corresponded to people who had been to Medjugorje, I began to pray from the heart.An anguished sort of prayer and one day I went to Confession.Here, I believe that I experienced real love,real peace for the first time and a hunger and desire to know God better.
I was released from jail in 1988,in March, and had the wonderful experience of going to Medjugorje for the first time in August with some wonderful friends that I had met after jail.God is so good.He has taught me that I am a great sinner but his love is vast enough to consume my great sin.I met my wife through my Medjugorje encounter and had a moment of reconciliation in Medjugorje when I was introduced to an ex British soldier who had served in Belfast at the time that I had been in the IRA.We swopped stories of pain and searching outside Saint James Church in Medjugorje and then embraced as brothers.Now only the Holy Spirit could cause that.
Many years on,still a stumbling disciple,I am still blessed by the encouner with the Risen Lord.I share this story with you that you might have strength in your faith and stay true to wonderful revelations of the Holy Spirit in Medjugoje today.
Give glory to God in the highest and peace to His people on earth.