Thursday 17 October 2013

Hopes for Hillsborough et al

I remember watching the Hillsborough Tragedy live on TV. It was a gut-wrenching sight when it became clear that what was taking place was not a pitch invasion but a desperate attempt to live.

In recent months there has been a review of this tragedy. To my knowledge this report noted that despite obvious signs of distress the Police did not react quickly enough, and that the structure of the pens; the placement of crush barriers; access to the central pens via a tunnel descending at a 1 in 6 gradient, with emergency exit from the pens being via small gates in the perimeter fence, all added to the situation. It also appears to have been noted that the mind-set of police and stewards was geared towards public order rather than safety, and that rescue and recovery efforts were lacking in leadership, co-ordination and prioritisation of casualties. Whether or not -as some who can only think of ‘football hooliganism’ might have it- some football supporters like a drink before a match (as I do) and may get involved in some violence, the fact remains that alcohol was not a contributing factor and that children, young people, middle-aged and more elderly persons, all lost their lives in what was, in light of the experience one year before, an avoidable horror.  I believe the families must now get a full and complete explanation for what happened and apologies from those responsible. Sadly, any sackings and loss of pension that might have followed in the period immediately after the tragedy now seem no longer possible.

I have two hopes for the Hillsborough families, who have my sincere condolences and fullest support. The first is that the full and honest facts of the event, which will demonstrate where any responsibilities lie, are made known in order that responsibility for the tragedy is removed from those who actually died –it seems sickening that the victims of Hillsborough could be seen as perpetrators of their own demise, and/or portrayed as badly as they were in the Sun Newspaper just days after the event. Indeed I have never once bought The Sun since that day, so disgusted was I at the portrayal it gave of the fans who did all they could to aid the injured. One can only watch film of those events to see in the compassion of those who tore down advertising boards to use as stretchers and those who gave First Aid to their injured fellows, the compassion and hand of God in the midst of a tragedy wrought by the devil.

And therein lies my second hope; that the families of the Hillsborough victims do not lose their faith in God who Himself suffered a torturous death in order to restore life to a damaged world. Sadly, many will have lost their faith, and for this the Church has to bear blame, since for a period of 20-30 years before the tragic event in Sheffield in April 1989 we focused on a ‘God of Alleluias’ and not our God-on-the-Cross, portraying His benevolence in such a way that what was perceivable by the man, woman and child in the pew was all but a Santa Claus, grandfather god. The reality of the Faith as centred on a Cross of Pain and Sorrow which would lead to resurrection had been lost. We still have those who want to sing the ‘Alleluia of the Easter People’ and by-pass the Passion and the Cross; it is perceivable in their hand-clapping, exuberant liturgies. They must not damage more souls than have already been damaged. The families of Hillsborough needed a God who suffered with them yet held out hope for a resurrection to come. They, like the families of those involved in school shootings; air, train and boat disasters, the Twin Tower or London train bombing horrors et al, through no fault of their own, could not and cannot find the Suffering Servant in Santa Claus or granddad.  I pray that with the uncovering of the truth behind Hillsborough and all other tragedies, the faith of the survivors and of the families of the victims be recovered. If it is not, it may well be our fault rather than theirs by our failure to present the truth of the Faith: that this world stands under the dark shadow of the Cross, with the peace of the Resurrection finally found only in the next world. 

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