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Marist Bulletin - Number 165

 

BROTHER CHRIS MANNION
21/10/2004

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BROTHER CHRIS MANNION
1951-1994

The Province of Europe Centre-Ouest / West Central Europe has remembered the tenth anniversary of the disappearance of Brother Chris Mannion. We have taken some extracts from the “Bulletin” of the Province (June 2004, n. 15 so as to learn more about his rich personality.

A brief biographical note
Brother Chris Mannion was born on the 15th May 1951, at Thornaby, Yorkshire in England. From the age of eleven, he expressed his desire to become a Marist Brother and a missionary. After a year of postulancy in Belgium and a year of novitiate in Dublin, he professed his first vows in 1971. Then, he received a Diploma of Religious Studies that was followed by a B.A. in History from the University of London in 1975.
His work as a missionary in Bamenda, Cameroon for ten years was marked by great enthusiasm and commitment. On his return to England in 1985, he prepared to become Master of Novices and took up this appointment the following year in Dublin. In March 1991, he was elected Provincial of the Province of Great Britain and Cameroon.
Two years later, he was chosen as a General Councillor of the Institute. It was during a mercy mission in Rwanda that he gave his life to help his brothers on the 1st July 1994.

Brother Jacques Scholte, Provincial, sees Chris as a brother who gave his life in trying to be close to those who were in need.
… On the 1st July 1994, Brother Chris Mannion was killed in a country that was then witnessing horrific events, which must still be painfully etched on the minds of its people.
Now, ten years later, Chris’ death can serve as an inspiration to us to reflect on the random and senseless violence that still prevails in the world. May his death deepen our own conviction and inspire us to strive to convince others too that violence will never lead to peace. This is best summarised in the words of Psalm 85: “Peace is the fruit of justice.” To promote justice is our main task and it is the only way to bring about peace. Only when justice is done to every single human being will it be possible to live in peace with each other. That will be your joy, a Dutch poet once wrote.
During the genocide in Rwanda the then Superior General, Brother Benito Arbués, and his Council were very concerned about the brothers who lived and worked there, and they wondered how to show them that they cared and wanted to help. Brother Chris, himself a Councillor, volunteered to go and see them and to be present among them – brothers who had witnessed terrible ordeals. Such a gesture of brotherhood is rooted in our Marist tradition. Marcellin has taught us to be with a brother who is ill or in need of help. Chris accepted the invitation to be attentively present in a place and in a situation where help was indeed needed…

In 1994, Brother Benito Arbués was Superior General. Here is how he remembers Chris.
…Chris was “a man of fiery passion”. His zest for life was impressive. In an excerpt from his diary dated 12th May 1994, less than two months before his tragic death, we find: “More and more I’m convinced that it isn’t the length of life which is important but the passion and commitment with which you live it. This life is a gift to be enjoyed, to be used to the full precisely because it will end in death (MY DEATH) one unforeseen day. I must live this gift of life now without worrying about what will be afterwards. If I don’t, then what is the purpose of the Incarnation?”
A few pages further on, he writes: “I am feeling wonderfully alive and invigorated after a game of football this afternoon. I came back in absolutely exhausted and quite dehydrated – yet feeling so vigorous and ALIVE. The pure physical joy of movement and of being able to run and jump and shoot. What a gift!” (June 4th 1994)
And three weeks before his life ended so tragically, we read: “Dennis Potter,(the well-known English playwright) died yesterday of cancer. His recent phrase ‘the nowness of everything is absolutely wondrous’ is so true. God is in the now. When I’m dead the Lord will ask me, ‘And did you enjoy my creation, Chris?’ I want to be able to honestly answer YES – and to have LIVED fully before dying.” (June 8th 1994)
Chris was a tireless worker who enjoyed what he was doing. But he was insistent on making time for leisure.
______________________________________________________________

A Marist Brother who lived with Chris at Bamenda, Cameroon, spoke to Chris’ mother, Terry, about her son. At the time of this interview, Harry, Chris’ father, was in hospital.

Terry, the tenth anniversary of the death of your son Chris in Rwanda is approaching. It must be an emotional and sensitive time for you and the family. But the great affection which you, Harry and I have for each other encourages me to ask you to share some of your feelings with the Marist family to which you are so closely united.
We still miss Chris so very much but we are always conscious of his presence with us.

I know that your main regret is that Chris’ body has never been found and that you have gone to great lengths to discover where he may be buried.
Yes, for many years we had written every month to the Rwandan authorities once they had acknowledged that Chris had indeed been killed and was buried in Rwanda but no details of where his body lies have ever been disclosed.

Do you feel any anger or bitterness about that?
Not at all. Great sadness, yes, but no bitterness. Let me read you the letter which we wrote in 1994: “We are most grateful to you for your prompt reply to our request for news of the fate of our son, the Very Reverend Brother Chris Mannion, F.M.S. – Councillor General of the Order of the Marist Brothers.
We are sad and bereft to hear that he is dead and buried in Rwanda and pray that the sacrifice of his death and that of his Marist Brothers may, by God’s grace, help to bring peace and stability to your country.
Our only wish now is for his body to be brought home so that we may bury him and find peace. We realise that tragedies happen during war by accident, fear and misunderstanding. We are not looking for vengeance. Chris was a man filled with the love of God. Mercy and justice and peace were his watchwords.
Among the military personnel involved in the battle of Save on 1st July (1994) someone must know where his body lies. Let them disclose this information without fear of reprisal or recrimination so that they too may find peace and reconciliation. Peace begins with forgiveness. – We forgive. God bless Rwanda and her people.
Yours respectfully and hopefully, Terry and Harry Mannion.”

That is indeed a remarkable letter. Yet some memorials do exist, don’t they?
Yes, as there is no grave to visit, where people could pray to Chris for Justice and Peace, two causes that he had worked for, we have a memorial plaque on the Lady altar in our parish church of the Holy Family, where in September 1994 we celebrated a special memorial Mass for Chris, which was attended by people from all over the world. And in the Generalate in Rome, Chris is remembered and honoured in the Sala Chris Mannion. Then, in the Brothers’ cemetery in Dumfries, there is a cross, just like those on the other graves, but underneath his name is written: “His grave known only to God.” Some yards away there is also a memorial bench, a personal tribute to Chris from the family.

Knowing that your health is very frail, let me just ask if there is anything else you would like to say before we finish.
Yes, two things. On behalf of my husband Harry and the family, I would like to assure the Marist Brothers of Rwanda that they have a special place in our hearts. We pray for them every day and when we think of Chris we remember too Brother Joseph who died with him, as well as Etienne, Fabien, Gaspard and Canisius who lost their lives elsewhere in that country ten years ago.
Finally, we are so grateful for the prayerful support of our Marist family all over the world. Without them we would never have survived the heartbreak of the tragic loss of our beloved only son, Chris.

Thank you, Terry. On this special anniversary, our thoughts and prayers are more than ever with you all. We are proud and honoured to have you with us as members of Marcellin’s family.

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