Don’t look back in anger

The power of innocent suffering: there is a sense of reverence and awe at the shrine of flowers in St Ann’s Square, Manchester.

The Rapid Response Team has completed its deployment, but some moments seem caught in eternity.

A man lays a bunch of tulips, wipes tears from his eyes, and crosses himself. A chaplain puts an arm around him. Beautiful, suffering humanity.

As the song from Oasis, the Manchester group, says: Don’t look back in anger. The crowd sang it here last Thursday.

Julian is crumpled against a shop window on the edge of the square, sobbing and frantically flicking through pictures on his mobile phone, enlarging the faces with finger and thumb. A chaplain sits on the pavement beside him and puts an arm around his shoulder.

He bites his lip in silence for a moment. Then he begins: “I’ve been coming here every day to cry. I can’t concentrate at work anymore. The terrorist has split me up from my girlfriend.

“I’m a Christian and she’s a Muslim. She says the whole world is against her. She’s gone back to her family. Sometimes my faith is strong, but sometimes it’s not there at all.”

Embracing him the chaplain prays: that the God of all comfort would give him strength.

There is a stiff breeze and the heart-shaped balloons threaten to blow away as a woman unpacks them from a bag. A chaplain helps to tie them to bunches of flowers. “Who are they for,” he asks.

A supply teacher at her daughter’s school was killed in the explosion. Several of the girl’s friends were injured and still have shrapnel in their bodies. She refused to go to school, and the authorities have sent home information about sleeplessness and bed-wetting.

More grief begins to pour out about a series of bereavements in the family. It is so true: moments like this expose trauma which is already there.

Katie comes to the square with her daughter Rachel and a young friend. The girls were at the concert. The mother, who normally always waits in the foyer, this time waited in the car, and escaped the blast. The two girls got out safely but saw all the carnage. They all carry the shock of having only just survived. A chaplain invites God’s healing.

A local Christian volunteer works alongside the chaplains. She approaches a young mother who is weeping near the flower shrine. As her eight-year-old daughter takes a chalk to write a message on the pavement, the conversation flows. The mother is a theatre nurse and attended one of the causalities that night. It was a tough time for all the medics.

A chaplain takes the whole family into a coffee shop, and leads them through a booklet – Steps to Peace with God. They pray together before the family leaves.

“Want a tissue, lovvie?” A volunteer intercepts a weeping woman as she passes. They hug. The church is enabling people to leave the pain here, so that it doesn’t turn to bitterness.

A man who was a trumpeter in the Coldstream Guards has travelled all the way from Canterbury. He says he has been led by the Holy Spirit to play Amazing Grace. The crowd applauds.

Brother Simon, in his black-and-white Dominican habit, stands in the doorway of St Ann’s church and prays the rosary: “Lord Jesus Christ, Son of the Living God, have mercy on me, a sinner.”

“It’s like people have internalised the Sermon on the Mount,” he comments as he surveys the crowd.

Love your enemies.

Names have been changed


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