This is the text of an article published in the Yorkshire Post a few minutes ago:

I remember where I was on April 15, 1989. I was leading a youth weekend at Rydal Hall in Cumbria, eager to finish a walk in the hills so I could catch up on the Liverpool versus Nottingham Forest FA Cup semi-final being played at the same time. My brother was at the match in Sheffield, and I knew a few other people who had been lucky enough to get tickets.

I got back and turned on my car radio. I couldn’t understand what was going on – even the commentator on the BBC sounded so traumatised that for a long time he simply assumed we all knew. As the news then became clearer, so did the horror begin to dawn.

In the end 96 people died. That is enough for everyone in Liverpool to be connected in some way with someone bereaved. The classic journey of bereavement has shock giving way to anger, anger to grief, and grief to acceptance. However, here, it seems that the grief exploded in a sea of flowers and mementoes at Anfield, while the anger slowly burned. It burned for nearly a quarter of a century before a new inquiry was sanctioned.

It is still hard to buy a copy of the Sun newspaper in Liverpool today. Shameful allegations of fans’ alleged sub-human behaviour pushed grief aside and fired an anger that has simmered ever since. Police behaviour, doctoring statements and all the other stuff now well documented put the reputations of the officers concerned ahead of the grief of bereaved people.

Now a verdict of unlawful killing has been returned, this time on the basis of proper investigation and fully-informed inquests. After more than 27 years, those involved can now move on, knowing that the truth has been heard – not only about what happened on that dreadful day, but also about the deliberate manipulations that subsequently condemned a city to unrequited misery.

One constant throughout this appalling business was the bond between Yorkshire and Liverpool, my home city and the place where four generations of my family still live. One of the most impressive campaigners for justice came from Keighley – Trevor Hicks, who with his then wife lost two daughters in the crush at the Leppings Lane end of the ground. The city of Sheffield recognised from the outset its inescapable involvement in the huge grief of those who had been denied not only the lives of those they loved, but also the justice needed from such an avoidable tragedy.

It was perhaps neither random nor coincidental that the person asked to chair the independent panel, and whose work led to the new new inquests, was a Church of England bishop.

The then Bishop of Liverpool, James Jones, understood not only the anger of those offended, but also the need for the sort of justice that can lead to reconciliation.

Pulling back from the blame game, he was able to establish a panel that scrutinised documentation. Objective, rational and concrete, the panel was able to identify just where truth had been obscured, leads missed, facts misrepresented, evidence manipulated. His brief was to expose the truth and then leave it to the judicial authorities to address the consequences

The bishop was equipped to chair this panel because he had the courage, clarity and committed impartiality to search for the truth, regardless of what it might cost those involved. It was also a pastoral response to the destroyed lives, wrecked relationships and demolished hopes of some very distraught people. He also clearly had the confidence of those paying for the whole thing that the narrative of events would be properly pursued under his leadership.

So, where to from here? Well, at least the bereaved – who held their final memorial service at Anfield last month – can know that the truth has been told and heard. Dignity can now be allowed where reputations lay questioned and character suspected.

Justice has been done and been seen to be done. If forgiveness is possible as those affected look to put this quarter of a century to rest, then it can now be credible – arising from knowledge of the facts (even uncomfortable facts) and full awareness of the degree of justified grievance they have borne for so long.

This changes something else. The police and others now deemed to be in some way responsible for the tragedy must address their personal and collective response. This will not be easy for them. Justice must in the end be liberating for everyone, even those for whom the truth is painful.

I am a Scouser and live in Yorkshire. The former Bishop of Liverpool has retired to Yorkshire. (The current Bishop of Liverpool was born and bred in Bradford, West Yorkshire) The bond between the two is not sentimental. It is a fatal error ever to accuse Yorkshire people or Liverpudlians of sentimentalism. But, the shared experience of this grief and anger has constructed a bond that generates mutual respect when it comes to the game of football that should always bring competitive pleasure, but never bring death and humiliation.

In circumstances such as these we often speak of ‘closure’. Not that memories are closed off or emotions allowed to run cold. But, a sense of justice for those who can no longer speak for themselves – who can neither justify nor explain themselves – does allow a future unchained from the grief and anger that will not stop stinging until the sting itself has been drawn.

A verse in the biblical book of Proverbs pleads: “Open your mouth for the dumb!” It has been quoted as an indictment against those who allow injustice to prevail because to protest would be too costly or wearing or inconvenient. Today it can be cited with pride on the part of families, supporters, football clubs, cities and even bishops: the voice of the dead has been honoured and now they can lie in peace.

 

This is the script of this morning's Thought for the Day on the BBC Radio 4 Today programme:

There's an oft-repeated story that St Francis of Assisi told his Friars to “go out and preach the gospel – use words if you have to”. Like many famous sayings, however, there is no evidence that he ever actually said it. And if he did, then he was wrong. Language is as important as lifestyle in telling the truth about who we really are and what we really think matters.

Well, a week on from the appalling events in Paris it is interesting that in times of tragedy or challenge, the most unlikely people resort effortlessly to the language of prayer. “My thoughts and prayers are with the victims,” we've heard; and we've seen people kneeling, praying before makeshift shrines and at packed services in the Notre Dame cathedral. But, prayer to whom? And with what content or intention, we might ask?

Well, language is rarely reducible to a single meaning that is immediately obvious. So, when people ask for prayers for a particular person or situation, perhaps it doesn't need to be factually broken down into substantive parts, but can be taken as evidence of an emotional need to look beyond ourselves for order or meaning – or even rescue. After all, in the Christian tradition prayer is not about presenting shopping lists of requests to a god whose job it is to make life comfortable, convenient or secure for us. Rather, prayer is that exercise that, bringing us into the presence of God, gradually exposes us to the mind of God towards ourselves and the world where we are. Inevitably, this then exposes us to the need to change so that we gradually see God, the world and ourselves through God's eyes.

Now, I realise that there are people who think prayer is a bit of a weird and esoteric practice for people who like that sort of thing. Put like this, however, it is not surprising that it is open for anyone. Prayer invites us to be open and honest with God and one another – to tell the truth about our fears and anxieties as well as about the things that make us scream with joy. It's like being stripped back so that we see as we are seen.

There is a word for this process, but it is a word that is often misunderstood. 'Repentance' does not refer to some abjectly miserable confession of moral guilt, but – literally from the Greek word 'metanoia' – to 'change your mind'. It's a bit like having the lens behind our eyes – sometimes called our worldview – re-ground or re-shaped so that we see everything differently.

If any word is useful in these days of anxiety and fear, then 'metanoia' isn't a bad one. It allows for the possibility that the present situation does not have the final word, and that we will be able to see differently. No wonder Jesus told people to not be afraid – before shining a new light on their fearful experience and opening up the possibility of what one writer has called 'newness after loss'. That there is hope.

This is the text of this morning's Thought for the Day on BBC Radio 4's Today programme:

Prince Charles in Ireland

Prince Charles's speeches in Ireland this week have been profoundly moving. It seems to me that he did three things.

Firstly, he identified with the suffering of Ireland over centuries and, particularly, more recently. He said simply that the island of Ireland “has had more than its fair share of turbulence and troubles.” Secondly, he set his own personal suffering in the context of a complex mix of politics, economics, tribalism and nationalisms. And, thirdly, he recognised the reality of pain and grief – borne by so many – whilst opening up the possibility of what an American theologian calls “newness after loss”.

The murder of Lord Mountbatten in 1979 struck to the heart of the British establishment, but for those involved in the bereavement, it was always more than a political matter. As Prince Charles put it: “It seemed as if the foundations of all that we held dear in life had been torn apart irreparably.” He had already spoken of the “anguish of such deep loss.”

This is the conundrum, isn't it? The political and the global collide with the individual and the private. Which is how grief always works – often biting through the veneers of self-sufficiency we paint on to the scars of bereavement and helplessness, and awakening the pain of personal loss in the face of a community's need to move on.

I think what the events of this week suggest is that the only way to tackle grief and the rage of injustice is for us to face those who were a part of it. In the famous Yad Vashem memorial to the Warsaw Uprising during World War Two one of the bronze reliefs depicts the Nazi guards without faces – apparently because to have given them faces would have meant humanising them. But, I thought that was actually the point. It was human beings – with faces and stories and families and hopes and dreams and regrets – who caused unimaginable pain to people who could not defend themselves. It is what we are seeing in Syria and Iraq as IS target innocent people with extreme violence and inhumane brutality.

What Tuesday's meeting demonstrated – backing up words with handshakes – was that violence and death do not have to have the final word. Realistic forgiveness – however long it takes and however immense the personal or communal cost – opens the door for all parties to be set free for a future that looked closed. Which is why, in the Lord's Prayer, any expectation of forgiveness by God is inextricably linked to my forgiving those who have grieved me.

Reconciliation is not easy and is never cost-free. The German martyr Dietrich Bonhoeffer cried against notions of what he called “cheap grace”. But, it is in the cost of looking a person in the eye that freedom is secured – freedom to live again.

Robert EnkeOne of the saddest stories of last week was the suicide of the Hannover and Germany goalkeeper, Robert Enke. It appears that after months of depression he threw himself under a train and put an end to his pain. The death of his two year old daughter three years ago caused him and his wife enormous grief, but people thought he had ‘got over it’. It appears that he was now afraid that his foster daughter would be taken away from him if his depression became public.

The German media reaction to Enke’s suicide has been very interesting, respectful and mature. Enke’s remarkable widow spoke about her loss and her husband’s fear of his depression becoming publicly known. His doctor, referring to the suicide note left behind, observed that Enke had resolved to end his life and had to keep his intention secret if he was to actually do the deed. Representatives of the German football association spoke about the problem of admitting ‘weakness’ in a sports world in which success and winning are everything. Oliver Bierhoff, the German national team manager, wept.

Depression is one thing; fear of talking about it is another. The depressed person has enough to cope with; it is the rest of us who create the conditions under which confession of ‘weakness’ is seen as impossible. OK, this might be particularly acute in a sports context, but anyone who has had any experience of depression or pastoral care of people suffering from depression (or their families) will know that depression is widely seen as a form of failure or weakness – especially in a society that worships strength, power, success, beauty and glamour.

Ballack at Enke serviceEnke suffered in public silence. Wealth, fame, popularity and success were not enough to still the raging storms of his depression. His death is a tragedy at many levels, but it has rightly exposed an issue that demands attention – and not just in Germany.

Tomorrow there will be a huge memorial service in the Hannover Arena to celebrate Enke’s life and mourn his death. It will be a collective outpouring of grief, but it will also enable people to reflect on the nature of depression and the public perception of it. One German friend of mine (who works in media) commented yesterday that “there was nothing like it before in Germany”. It is a bit like the German ‘Diana moment’ – when the veneer of social ‘normality’ is stripped off and the raw humanity that we all hide so well gets brutally exposed.

No doubt the veneer will get coated back on as the days go by. But some vulnerabilities will have been exposed by Enke’s death, his widow’s grief and his national team manager’s tears.

Kassmann at Enke serviceDr Margot Käßmann, the recently-elected leader of the Evangelische Kirche in Deutschland (who is also the Bishop of Hannover), spoke at a service the day after Enke’s death. She quoted the Liverpool anthem You’ll never walk alone and then tackled the questions raised head on. But she began her address by quoting from Enke’s widow:

Wir haben gedacht, wir schaffen alles, und mit Liebe geht das. Aber man schafft es doch nicht immer. (We always thought we could manage, that love would get us through. But it doesn’t always work out.)

This is the reality. And it will hit hard those who live in fantasy land – who think that if you just get the ‘formula’ right, everything will work out OK. If we are to live in the real world, then we must listen to the grief as well as the joy, the tears as well as the laughter, the failures as well as the successes. And we must, perhaps, be more rigorous about what we consider to be ‘success’ or ‘failure’ in the first place.

This death will be of ‘interest’ in the UK, but only insofar as a foreign footballer has died young. Grief is always relative. But those of us who deal with depressed people or who love Germany will pause for longer and pray for those whose lives have been so deranged by this particular death.

Robert Enke RIP.