GOOD FRIDAY PEOPLE
ON December I 1980, the night before she died, tut Ford attended a farewell dinner. She was in good heart, for she was among friends and the dark cloud that had settled over her after her friend Carla's death in El Salvador had begun to lift.
The occasion was the last day of the Maryknoll sisters' annual regional assembly and it was held in a retreat house in Managua in Nicaragua. There were 22 Maryknoll sisters from Central America: from Panama, Nicaragua, and El Salvador, and two guests from war-torn Guatemala.
At the close of the meeting they prayed and Ha read a passage from one of Archbishop Romero's homilies. "Christ invites us not to fear persecution because, believe me brothers and sisters, one who is committed to the poor must risk the same fate as the poor.
"And in El Salvador we know what the fate of the poor signifies: to disappear, to be tortured, to be captive and to he found dead."
Ita, having talked in depth about her grief at Carla's death and having been able to share it with friends who had known Carla well, was able to join in with a verve which she had found impossible earlier in the week.
She surprised everyone by volunteering to be in one of the skits and later jumped up to teach the "barnyard shuffle" as the group sang Old MacDonald had a Farm and Maura Clarke, the gentle, rather timid sister who had only lately found the courage to replace Carla in Chalatenango joined in the merriment by dancing the Irish jig.
How important it is that we remember that Ita Ford danced the barnyard shuffle the night before she died because it helps us to earth the last supper in our own time and place.
Jesus of Nazareth held a party the night before he died and like Ira's his laughter must have rung out under the stars.
Ira knew that her life was in terrible danger. At the meeting, she explained that, because of the stand that the archdiocese had taken against injustice, the church "is encountering a notable increase in hostility and incidents that indicate a foremediated persecution.
"From January through October 1980 there have been 28 assassinations of church personnel, three woundings, 21 arrests, four profanations of the eucharist, machine gunnings of church buildings, 14 bombings, and 33 search and Seizures of church properties."
It is difficult for us who sec
Sheila Cassidy continues her Lenten series on those who have shared the cross with Christ
violence only on our television screens to understand how it was for this fragile reed of a woman, so recently bereaved of her closest friend, to contemplate returning to such a situation.
That she found it increasingly difficult to continue is apparent from the account of her conversations with Maryknoll psychiatrist Sr Maria Rieckelman who had come down from the United States to attend the regional assembly. At the thanksgiving dinner on November 26 she was withdrawn and distracted, unable to enter into the festivities and she told Maria "I really don't feel very thankful", "I could not do that again."
"I can't tell you what it might be. That's for you to find, to choose, to love. I can just encourage you to start looking, and support you in the search" (letter to Jennifer, August 16, 1980): this letter was Ita's birthday present to her neice Jennifer, in lieu of records, books or perhaps a new dress.
A year or so ago, when I was preparing a lecture on "coping with spiritual needs of the dying", I asked a Jesuit friend how he understood the term "spiritual needs".
He thought for a long while and then gave me his list, prominent among which was the need for a meaning in life.
People find this vital, intangible entity in many ways: in the love of and for their children, in the service of others and in creating something original or beautiful. But always, nearly always, a meaning in life is caught up in love of another.
It is hardly surprising then, that Jesus' most urgent message, on the night before he died was this: My little children, I shall not be with you much longer . . .
I give you a new commandment: love one another; just as I have loved you, you must also love one another.
(John 13:33-4) I find it really quite bizarre, sometimes, when I think how far the Christian church has strayed away from this fundamental message of the gospel. Jesus did not say that his followers would be known by their purity, by their ascetic behaviour, by their piety or by their distinctive dress but by the love they have for one another. From Sheila Cassidy's "Good Friday People", published by Darton, Longman and Todd, £5.95.