I didn’t know him at all, but I feel as if I did. Tributes to the late Bishop Edward Daly of Derry have come from far and wide, from Catholic and non Catholic, believer and non believer. His death was a lead item on news bulletins in Ireland and the U.K., with commentators speaking of him with warmth and affection.
Of course, those of a certain age remembered him as the priest who waved the blood-stained handkerchief on Bloody Sunday, but he was more than that. He was a model, a reminder, of what a good priest, a good bishop, is like. It was an important reminder at the end of another difficult week for the Irish Catholic Church.
In fact, that was one of the contrasts that hit me most clearly these past few days: the same radio shows and newspapers and social media that feasted on the Maynooth crisis and the dysfunction in the church, leaving people to wonder if there is any such creature as a good or normal priest, then reported on the life and ministry of one good priest, reminding people that such creatures do exist after all.
And Edward Daly was one such priest.
He was unpretentious, without airs or graces, happy to be called ‘Eddie’ rather than ‘Bishop’ or ‘My Lord.’
He was not ambitious, and had no desire for high office. He was shocked to be appointed bishop at just 40 years old.
He was an ecumenist, and knew the importance of extending the hand of friendship and solidarity across the religious divide.
He was a peacemaker, not afraid to stand up to the men of violence from whatever side.
He was a man of the people, who knew the smell of the sheep, and knew many of them by name.
He was a simple pastor, who for the last 20 years of his life, ministered to the dying and the bereaved. It must have been very consoling for them, whether or not they were people of faith, to have a bishop by their bedside at their end.
He gave witness to the faith, witness to what it means to be a follower of Jesus Christ. His life and example offer a good template for all bishops and pastors.