Bishop pleads for peace at funeral of stabbed teenager Reece Cullen
‘Conflict can begin with just a dirty look,’ Bishop Eamonn Walsh tells congregation
The funeral of Reece Cullen (17) from Jobstown, Co Dublin took place Wednesday morning at the Church of St Martin de Porres, Old Bawn, Tallaght. Photograph: Peter Murtagh
If numbness was physical, you could have touched it inside the Church of St Martin de Porres in Old Bawn, Tallaght.
Invisible and silent, it was everywhere.
The Co Dublin church was enveloped by the lingering joy of Christmas – the still-standing big, tall Christmas tree, with twinkling white lights and decorated in outsized bright red and glistening silver bows; in front of the altar, a model of the nativity scene large enough to hide the place of sacrifice; and, over to one side of the amphitheatre church, an encased model of the Holy Land filled with hummel-like figurines, electric candles and water features, all telling the story of the first Christmas to the (thankfully switched off) accompaniment of old time favourites delivered by Perry Como and company.
But there was no joy or happiness in the church.
This was the place to which Ken O’Flanagan brought his sons Reece, Nathan and Dylan last September 15th to bury their mother, Annmarie Cullen, an attractive women in her prime who took her own life because, in part at least, she was laid so low by problems in the area.
On Wednesday, Ken was back again with Nathan and Dylan – this time to say goodbye to 17-year-old Reece, now lying in the dark wooden coffin that was carried aloft into the church by six young men, past a welcoming guard of honour provided by the Jobstown Boxing Club, and placed in front of the Christmas crib.
As they did so, the silence was filled by soloist Catherine Byrne (accompanied on keyboard by John McCormack) singing the Irish hymn, I Watched The Sunrise and the soft sobs of the many young people among the congregation of some 700 people who filled the church almost to capacity.
Many young girls wore electric blue ribbons in their hair – “It was Reece’s favourite colour”, said one – and about 20 of them all sitting together also sported white T-shirts with his photograph embossed on the front.
“Everything is beautiful in its time,” said Dylan, giving the first reading, from Ecclesiastes 3. “For everything there is a season, a time for every matter under heaven; a time to be born and a time to die. . .”
January 5th was not Reece Cullen’s time to die, but die he did when those problems that have blighted the area returned – this time to end his life in a stabbing in Kilclare Crescent, close to where he lived in Bawnlea Crescent.
The gardaí are investigating, a person was arrested and a file will be sent to the Director of Public Prosecutions.
The second reading, With God at our side, who can be against us? (St Paul’s Letter to the Romans) paved the way for presiding priest’s Fr Michael Hurley’s homily.
“I am deeply aware of the depth of pain that you, as immediate family and as friends, carry this day,” he began.
“Reece was a young man full of promise and hopes – a young man who was making great efforts to realise his own potential.”
But he did not go into the social problems, the matter of the gangs and drugs, the intimidation and the depth of violence overlaying the normal rashness of youth, that appear to have coalesced, conspiring to end Reece’s life.
Instead, he preached the solace of faith.
“Today is the day for us to do everything we can to make the world a better place, to bring peace to others and to be a peacemaker,” he said.
God had placed a beauty in Reece’s life and many had seen that, said the priest, and His love accompanied the teenager in life.
“At his moments of greatest aloneness, God was with him and indeed at the point of death, God was reaching out to him, loving him, embracing him. Nothing can separate us from the love of God,” said Fr Hurley.
Reece was now at home with the angels and his mother in Heaven, he said. “He has arrived home and he knows the answers to the dilemma of life.”
In a short reflection, a woman named Denise read a poem. It broke our hearts to lose you but you did not go alone for part of us rose with you the day you got called home . . .
Bishop Eamonn Walsh, the bishop for the area, a largely unobtrusive figure on the altar throughout, with co-celebrant Fr Jimmy McPartland, addressed the congregation just before the coffin was removed from the church.
“Don’t let anyone ever put down Tallaght, ” he told the congregation, counselling against despair and social stereotyping.
“I can’t grasp the depth of your loss,” he said, speaking directly to Reece’s father Ken, his brothers and grandparents, Ann and Joe.
But then there was a message directed specifically to the young people present: there had to be a better way of handling violence.
“Conflict can begin with just a dirty look, or a put down word, or describing somebody in thrash terms, and that’s so terrible,” said the Bishop.
“So when we see the dignity that’s in each person, and when we see the good we will only see it first by seeing it in ourselves. If you don’t see the good in yourself, you won’t be able to see it in somebody else.
“So I say to you young people, look for the hidden treasure that’s within yo . . . Let’s bring out the goodness in one and other so that we will look at one and other as people who are precious and special and gifted and can make this world a better place, and let no one take that away from anybody else.
“Because it starts with a look: how you look at yourself, how you speak about yourself, how you speak about others and the actions that will follow. But if you put yourself down, or let anyone put somebody else down, it translates into actions and terrible tragedy.”
Reece’s coffin was borne from the church as it had entered – carried aloft by six young men and to the singing of In The Arms of an Angel – and taken to Kilmashogue cemetery where he was buried alongside his mother.
Outside the church, Ken O’Flanagan, tall, handsome, dressed all in black, looking tired, red-eyed and a not a little bewildered, accepted condolences.