17 May 2006

Sea of tears as schoolboy's funeral takes place

Belfast Telegraph

Michael's moving poem read out to mourners

By Debra Douglas
17 May 2006

Image Hosted by ImageShack.usA poignant poem written by murdered teenager Michael McIlveen was a moving centrepiece at his funeral today.

As thousands of people - many in Celtic and Rangers jerseys - lined the streets of Ballymena, the teenager's words echoed round a church amid a tidal wave of tears.

A priest read a poem written by Michael in which he said: "Thank you, God, for this beautiful world.

"Help me always to respect your world and remember that all creation comes from you.

"Help me always to appreciate the beauty that surrounds me ... always to know it is not mine to damage or destroy."

Father Paul Symonds told the mourners that Michael's brutal murder will not have been in vain if it leads to a new vision for Ballymena and Northern Ireland.

Fr Symonds told the mourners that darkness had descended on the town with the "wanton murder" of Michael.

But in his homily, which was relayed by loudspeaker to the large crowd which gathered outside the All Saints Church in the town to pay their respect, he said it was important not to cling to the past.

"The challenge now is to open ourselves to the influence of his death," he said.

"Even in the past week there have been signs of new relationships, dialogue between those who formerly would not speak to each other, a reaching out of love across the divide.

"The McIlveen family have been deeply touched by the wave of sympathy and compassion which has come to them from Protestants, not only from neighbours near and far, but also from the leadership of Protestant churches.

"We mustn't, however, be complacent, we must grasp this opportunity of a new beginning, aware that cynical and negative voices will try to stifle the good that God can bring from the evil of Michael's death.

"The violence of that death is a frightening indication of the deep-rooted sectarianism at the heart of our society.

"Radical sickness calls for radical healing."

Describing Michael's murder as a "brutal and unjust death", Father Symonds said he had played his part in creating a more harmonious and respectful society.

He added: "Michael loved Ballymena and the society in which he mixed embraced both the north and south of the town, both Catholic and Protestant, supporters of Celtic and Rangers."

He also paid tribute to Michael's heartbroken mother Gina, sisters Jodie and Francine, brother Sean and the rest of the family for their "quiet dignity".

"They have uttered no word of bitterness or recrimination, but rather stressed their just pride in the inclusive love which Michael witnessed," he said.

The cortege left the family home at Dunvale this morning before making its way to All Saints Church, close to where the teenager was attacked.

His Catholic and Protestant friends wore Celtic and Rangers jerseys as part of a guard of honour in a poignant show of cross-community unity at his funeral.

And Celtic star Roy Keane sent his number 16 Hoops jersey, signed by all the players, to the family as a show of solidarity.

Michael's family said the Roy Keane gesture mean at lot to them.

Michael was a big Celtic fan and attended his first game at the CIS Cup Final in March.

Michael was brutally beaten to death in a sectarian attack last weekend. He was cornered and attacked with a baseball bat after being chased by a gang.

Seven teenagers have since been charged in connection with his murder which sparked widespread condemnation from both sides of the community.

Meanwhile, a loyalist flute band in Ballymena is to re-route a controversial parade away from a street which is yards from the scene where Michael was attacked in a move welcomed by the Parades Commission.

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