‘A very dangerous man’ addresses Dublin seminar
Added on Monday 27th June 2011
‘A very dangerous man’ addresses Dublin seminarThe Revd Donald Reeves was once described by Margaret Thatcher as “a very dangerous man” and by The Times of London as the “radical rector” and “the most extraordinary clergyman in the Church of England.” At the time, he was the Rector of Saint James’s, Piccadilly, and he had a reputation as a “turbulent priest” – an eminent and honourable place to hold in Anglican tradition.
Now in his late 70s, Donald Reeves works on peace–building and peace–making projects in the Balkans. He says Baroness Thatcher’s description of him “rather pleased” him, “it felt like a natural title.” It is a sobriquet that he has come to wear with pride and that inspired the title of his autobiography The Memoirs of a Very Dangerous Man.
Today, however, he emphasises his role as a peace–maker, and he co–directs the Soul of Europe, a foundation that which works at peace–making and peace–building in the Balkans for 10 years.
He visited Dublin in June, and spoke about the work of the Soul of Europe at a seminar co–sponsored by the Church of Ireland Theological Institute and the Irish School of Ecumenics.
Through the Soul of Europe project, Mr Reeves spends much of his time in the Balkans, trying to build durable trust between communities only nominally at peace after terrible conflicts. The Soul of Europe seeks to help people living through post–conflict situations to realise Nelson Mandela’s words first addressed to politicians in Northern Ireland: “If you want to make peace do not speak with your friends, you must speak with your enemies.”
In Kosovo, he has been talking to Serbs and Albanians, seeking to “dismantle the fear each has of the other” and to break down the isolation of minorities – in this case the Serbs, and their ancient religious institutions, living under armed guard. He has tried to help Kosovo’s Albanians and Kosovo’s Serbs to help normalise relations between Kosovo’s Muslim Albanians and two endangered Serbian Orthodox Monasteries at Decani and Pec.
Before Kosovo, he was working in Bosnia. Both Bosnia and Kosovo “are littered with failed projects,” he said.
In Bosnia, progress was uneven and inconclusive, as he and his colleagues experienced deeply–rooted mutual suspicion and resentment in communities where co–existence had turned overnight into murderous hatred. They had to listen patiently to “raw memories” and accept that there could be “no short cuts, no quick fixes.”
But he is scathing too about the role of the UN, the EU and other peace–keeping bodies and bureaucrats, saying this morning: “I have become very disillusioned with the way European bureaucracy functions.”
He is frustrated by the way in which ignorance of religion has become an embedded in official thinking, so that religion is seen as matter of choice and that a real illiteracy of religion has emerged. It means churches and mosques are valued only and merely as places of cultural heritage and not as living religious communities. But “religion is the crucible in which the ‘chosen trauma’ of a community is held.”
He expressed a deep–seated “nervousness” about growing Islamophobia in Europe, which he described as an “alarming phenomenon.”
“The Muslims are the new Jews of Europe,” he said.
During his visit to Dublin, Mr Reeves also preached in Saint Patrick’s Cathedral.
He was made MBE in 2006 for his peace–building in Bosnia, and for fostering good relations between the Abrahamic Faiths he was awarded the Muhammad Nafi Tschelebi Peace Prize last year by the Tschelebi Institute, the oldest Islamic organisation in Germany.
The Revd Donald Reeves (centre) with Canon Patrick Comerford (left) of the Church of Ireland Theological Institute and Dr Andrew Pierce (right) of the Irish School of Ecumenics