The Rev. Gary Mason preached forgiveness and understanding on Sunday and it’s a touchy subject given the Boston Marathon bombing wounds remain open and raw.
But Mason comes with a world of experience. For more than a quarter century he has ministered to warring factions in Northern Ireland and has gotten bitter enemies to come together and at least begin a dialogue that has fostered trust and, for the most part, peace.
Mason, 55, delivered his message to the faithful of the Hyde Park United Methodist Church during three services Sunday morning.
In a mellifluous Irish brogue, he spoke of lecturing two weeks ago about peace building and conflict resolution in conferences at Boston College, Boston University, Tufts University and Harvard University.
He flew to Tampa from there on the day of the bombing that killed three people, including an 8-year-old child, critically wounded a dozen more and injured nearly 200 people. Two brothers emerged as suspects. One was killed in a police shootout and the other was captured.
Both were Muslims, sparking a new round of Islam bashing around the nation. But that’s counter productive to making peace, Mason said.
“I’ve spent most of my life building peace,” he said, talking to terrorists, or freedom fighters, as some prefer to call themselves.
He directs the Belfast Methodist Mission and has been a central figure in attempting to bring peace to the conflicts in Northern Ireland. His leadership there was recognized by Queen Elizabeth II, who awarded the reverend a Member of the Order of the British Empire in 2007.
He also ministered in South Africa during the last throws of apartheid.
The decades-old conflict in Ireland took its toll on both sides, he said. There were 3,000 killed and more than 35,000 injured in 34,000 shootings and 14,000 bombings.
“I understand from personal experience the pain in Boston,” he said.
What kept conflict in Northern Ireland raging, and what keeps similar conflicts around the world going now, he said, is a lack of dialogue between different groups, be they Christians and Muslims, blacks and whites, Protestants and Catholics.
“If we demonize another person, it’s easier to kill them,” Mason said.
Acts of terrorism tend to escalate if cooler minds don’t prevail, he said.
“What will your response to Boston be?” he asked the congregation attending the 11 a.m. service. “Will you put bars on your windows? Will you buy more automatic weapons to put in your basement?”
A security response is needed, but that’s the job of the government, not the church, Mason said. The church’s response should be one of forgiveness and compassion not only for the sake of the perpetrators, he said, “but for our sake as well.”
Otherwise, the hatred and animosity directed toward an enemy “will destroy you as a person,” Mason said.
There are three ways to deal with an enemy: annihilation, which can never be totally achieved; containment, which basically postpones the resolution; or negotiation, which could take decades before resolutions are made, Mason said.
“The peace process,” he said, “sometimes takes generations.”