I’ve decided to take a break from the book posts and fundraising endeavour (which is still ongoing!) to post this little piece in defence of Northern Ireland woman Michaella McCollum.
In a recent article I was given the opportunity to write once more on the Sacrament of Reconciliation. I don’t know why but it is one subject which I consistently find myself returning to. Perhaps it is because of my own need of God’s mercy and forgiveness that I constantly want to write about the sacrament. Whatever the reason, I love talking about and writing about Reconciliation.
I have been following the recent news stories regarding the early release from prison of County Tyrone woman Michaella McCollum who has just returned home. Ms McCollum has been released on parole after serving two years in a Peruvian prison. As soon as this news broke journalists from all over Ireland were penning their thoughts on Ms McCollum’s release and their judgment on her personally. I have seen articles which refer to Ms McCollum as a spoilt brat and a drug mule. I have read of journalists having no pity for her and saying they “despise” her. I have to confess that I’ve been a little bit stunned by these articles. Regardless of Ms McCollum’s actions I think it is a rather sad indictment of our society which shows that we can cast such judgement on someone we have never met, or experienced what she has experienced. Don’t get me wrong I’m not suggesting we throw Ms McCollum a party the likes of which Northern Ireland has never known but a bit of compassion wouldn’t go amiss.
There can be no denying that what Ms McCollum did was wrong; morally and legally. She has publicly stated that she accepts that what she did was wrong and has accepted that her actions could have had serious repercussions had she not been caught with the drugs smuggled. This admission of guilt shows that she has taken responsibility for what she has done. Ms McCollum has said she intends to spend time with the Columbian Fathers’ Missionaries working with people who have contracted HIV+ and AIDS. While only the future will show how she gets on with this, from an outside perspective these appear to be the actions of someone who is penitent and wants to make amends for what she has done. This is someone who is seeking forgiveness and ultimately reconciliation.
Regardless of our opinion of Michaella, her actions now are admirable. If we are cynical then we will have made up our minds already about Ms McCollum but perhaps this reveals more about ourselves than it does her. Why shouldn’t we feel pity for Ms McCollum though? Why shouldn’t we believe that she has turned a corner and desires to amend her life? We have so many examples of people here in Northern Ireland who have done just that and have once more been accepted by their community at a local and national level. Perhaps that should be amended to read, we have many examples of men here in Northern Ireland who have changed their ways and been accepted by their community once more. Not to mention characters such as John Pridmore who has also turned a corner in life and gone on to inspire and teach others.
I think it is particularly sad to see how Northern Ireland MLA Lord Maurice Morrow has hit out so vehemently over Ms McCollum’s return home. Lord Morrow who for so long was championing the fight to end the trafficking of people really should know better than to cast such judgements on a vulnerable person.
We are consistently reminded by Jesus in the Gospels that we cannot judge others without first judging ourselves. I could rhyme off any number of passages which show this, whether it be the story of the woman caught in adultery (John 8:1-11) or the story of little Zacchaeus (Luke 19:1-10) but I think perhaps we would be best to look at chapter fifteen of St Luke’s Gospel and read through the stories of the lost. These are stories of mercy and Ms McCollum’s story can have a happy merciful ending as well. She is not a “drug mule” and she is not a “spoilt brat.” She is a woman. There is no doubt in my mind that she did a very stupid thing (as she readily admits herself) but that is past. Hopefully her life now will reflect the mercy which she has experienced and she can be a real force for good in the world.
There is no sin so heinous that God will not forgive if our heart is truly a penitent one. This is a real challenge for us because if we think about it what does that mean for the people in our world who have caused such unimaginable suffering? Who have done silly things as Ms McCollum did. What about them? If they were to be truly penitent and ask God’s forgiveness would He forgive them? The answer is simple: Yes. That’s part of the challenge of the Christian life. We can allow ourselves to hold onto the transgressions of ourselves and others and become incredibly bitter through this. Or we can be merciful as the Father is merciful.
Some writers have said they feel no sympathy for Ms McCollum. I do. I know what it is like to think that you can take on the world and you don’t need the help of your family or peers. I know what it is to be naive. I know what it is to feel stuck in something and terrified wondering “How am I going to get out of this?” We all mistakes; its part of the human experience. I hope that in the future we will see just what Michaela McCollum is capable of. I know that she will look up at night and sees the beauty of the moon and the stars and I pray that she gives thanks for the One who has freed her. I wish her luck in her life. To those who cannot get past what she has done in the past I implore you; be merciful as the Father is merciful. We are all brothers and sisters in Christ – get over it.
As for me all I can say is: Michaella; Welcome Home.