An ecumenical service of gratitude for the life of Fr Alec Reid was held in Clonard Church in west Belfast last night ahead of his funeral today.
“I used to say he was the priest and I was the altar server,” said Fr Gerry Reynolds, friend through bad times and good times.
Fr Reid’s funeral Mass is being held at Clonard, with his interment later in the Redemptorist plot in Milltown Cemetery.
Fr Reynolds, also a Redemptorist, was one of a number of clergy and politicians from different denominations who attended an ecumenical service of gratitude for Fr Reid’s life last night.
Also among the congregation was the Methodist minister, the Rev Harold Good who, with Fr Reid, verified IRA decommissioning in 2005. Others present included friends across the old divide, Presbyterian ministers Ken Newell and Ruth Patterson, as well as representatives from the Church of Ireland.
Other key figures in attendance included Sinn Féin Deputy First Minister Martin McGuinness and Sinn Féin president Gerry Adams.
Also in attendance were hundreds more Catholics, Protestants and neither to pay tribute and remember Fr Reid’s contribution to persuading violent republicanism to take a different path.
Rev Patterson described Fr Reid as a “ pilgrim for peace”, adding he was a man who had to walk a “lonely road” to finally achieve the goal of peace.
“He was the main thinker, the main source of energy in the effort,” said Fr Reynolds.
For several decades, Fr Reynolds and Fr Reid worked together to help create the foundations for peace, culminating in the seminal talks between SDLP leader John Hume and Gerry Adams in the early 1990s – an engagement that was critical in leading on to the republican and loyalist ceasefires and to later political developments.
He added that Fr Reid’s way held deep lessons for dissident republican paramilitaries and others who believed political ends could be achieved through violence.
Among the large congregation were: DUP Minister Jonathan Bell and DUP MLA Sammy Douglas representing First Minister Peter Robinson; Ulster Unionist Party leader Mike Nesbitt; Alliance leader and Minister for Justice David Ford; NI21 leader Basil McCrea and Bairbre Jones, the Irish joint head of the British-Irish secretariat in Belfast.