In August of 1976 two members of the IRA were transporting arms through the Catholic and strongly Republican neighborhood of Andersontown, Belfast. Claiming that one of these men pointed a rifle at them, British troops shot and killed both the driver and passenger. The car careened off the road and ran into a mother and her three children. Joanne Maguire (age 8) and her brother Andrew (6 weeks) died at the scene, while John (age 2) died the next day. The mother, Ann Maguire, was the only survivor. After a three and a half year battle with depression brought on by the deaths of her three children, Ann committed suicide in January of 1980.
Several days after the original incident an eyewitness, Betty Williams, organized a peace march through Belfast to protest this and all of the killings in what are so understatedly called “The Troubles.” As she watched the marchers pass by her house, Mairead Corrigan, the sister of Ann Maguire, felt the call to join the two hundred or so women, both Catholic and Protestant, who had had enough of the violence. Little did Betty and Mairead know that they would become the leaders of the much larger Women for Peace and that their work would be honored by their reception of the Nobel Peace Prize.
Over the decades Corrigan has branched out to tackle other “troubles” in Ireland and around the world. She co-founded the Committee on the Administration of Justice, a human rights group that lobbies for the fair and just adherence to the law in the north of Ireland and around the world. She is also one of many well-known people, including the atheist journalist Nat Hentoff and the Cleveland-raised actress Patricia Heaton, to have been key members of the pro-life group Consistent Life Ethic.
She has been critical of British Prime Minister Tony Blair and the U.S. Presidents George W. Bush and Barack Obama, primarily for their military policies in the Middle East. She has worked, often with other Nobel Laureates, for the release of political prisoners and for various peace and non-violence initiatives. She has run afoul of the law in the United States for protesting the Iraq War and in Israel for her pro-Palestinian activities.
What stands out about Corrigan is that she has remained above the Right-Left fray, both at home in Ireland and internationally. She stands almost alone on the world stage as someone who wants to save children from the ravages of war as well as from the holocaust of abortion. As someone who learned about peaceful resistance to injustice from the likes of Dorothy Day and the Berrigan brothers, Mairead sees things through a religious lens focused upon the words of Jesus in the Gospels. For these Catholic social justice warriors there is no concern for the political distinctions of Right and Left; there is only the moral distinction of Right and Wrong.
Fr. Daniel Berrigan, S.J., the first priest to ever have the dubious honor of making the F.B.I.’s Most Wanted list, called our country “an ‘interlocking directorate’ of death that binds the whole culture. That is, an unspoken agreement that we will solve our problems by killing people in various ways; a declaration that certain people are expendable.” And since January 22, 1973, our culture’s basket of expendables has included the unborn.
Over forty years have passed since Fr. Berrigan spoke those words, and the unborn, on whose behalf he used to protest outside of Planned Parenthood abortion facilities, are even more expendable today. The “interlocking directorate” of death, both nationally and internationally, holds more of the cards than ever before. The “unspoken agreement” has now been clearly and boldly articulated in all of the corridors of power throughout the world.
And despite this sad state of affairs, those who are disciples of Jesus know that the Gospel is by definition a message of hope: it is literally the Good News. Our Lord tells us that death – whether as a part of the interlocking directorate or not – does not have the last word. To paraphrase the words of St. Teresa of Calcutta, another Nobel Peace Prize winner, our hope is not in earthly success, but in the striving to be faithful to the Gospel on behalf of the least and most vulnerable of our sisters and brothers.