A Papal Medal for Annie Maguire

John Paul II Awarded Woman Wrongfully Imprisoned for IRA Attack

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LONDON, MAY 24, 2005 (Zenit.org).- Among John Paul II’s last decisions was the issuing of the «Bene Merenti» medal to a woman wrongfully imprisoned for attacks carried out by the Irish Republican Army in 1974.

Cardinal Cormac Murphy-O’Connor presented the papal medal to Annie Maguire last Sunday.

Now a great-grandmother, Maguire spent nine years in prison after being wrongly convicted of running an IRA bomb factory from her home.

The aunt of Gerry Conlon, one of the «Guildford Four,» she was imprisoned in 1976 along with five members of her family. They were known as the «Maguire Seven.»

Members of the Conlon and Maguire families were jailed in connection with bomb attacks in Guildford and Woolwich, in England. One of the attacks left five people dead and 54 wounded.

In October 1989, the Court of Appeals annulled the sentences of the Guildford Four, after a years-long campaign for their release, by the then archbishop of Westminster, Cardinal Basil Hume.

Cardinal Hume was a member of a group known as «The Deputation.» The Deputation insisted on the innocence of the Guildford Four and the Maguire Seven in the face of considerable opposition from political and legal authorities.

Last Feb. 9, British Prime Minister Tony Blair issued a public apology to the members of the two families for the miscarriages of justice they had suffered in connection with the 1974 IRA attack, which was made into a movie entitled «In the Name of the Father.» The prime minister said that the families deserved to be «completely and publicly exonerated.»

Cardinal Murphy-O’Connor presented Annie Maguire with the «Bene Merenti» medal at the conclusion of a packed 11 a.m. Mass last Sunday at the Sacred Heart of Jesus Parish in London, which she attends during the week.

Three days before his death on April 2, Pope John Paul II issued the «Bene Merenti» medal to Maguire, in recognition of her work in the parish, in her family and in the community, according to the press office of the Archdiocese of Westminster.

Some 1,500 people crowded into the church, along with TV crews and photographers. Annie Maguire sat at the front, surrounded by members of her family.

«I am delighted to be here for this Mass and especially to give this medal to Annie Maguire. It was one of the last acts made by John Paul II before he died, and that is not insignificant,» said Cardinal Murphy-O’Connor at the end of the Eucharistic celebration.

«Annie has been given this medal for her outstanding work in the parishes here of the Kilburn community, of faith, and prayer and service to so many people,» the cardinal said. «The medal is called ‘Bene Merenti,’ which means ‘well deserved.’ But I would have said, ‘very, very well deserved.’

«I know that Annie has suffered much in the past, as have many members of her family who are here today. And I just want to say to the family how delighted we are that you are here with Annie, how many prayers have been said for you over the years. But today I want to honor, in the name of Pope John Paul and Pope Benedict, Annie Maguire, for her service, her faith, her love, and forgiveness, and all the qualities that her lived Christian faith has brought to this parish and to this community.»

After receiving the medal, a tearful Annie Maguire praised her sons and daughter and other members of the family.

«They all stood by me,» she said. «Without them to help me to be strong, I may not have come through.»

She also thanked her parents for passing on to her their Christian faith. «Where there is faith, there is hope,» she added.

Earlier, Oblate of Mary Immaculate Father Francis Ryan, Maguire’s parish priest, commented: «In her younger days, Annie was very involved in her parish in West Kilburn, before she and her family were thrust into the national headlines for tragic events which happened in Guildford in 1974.»

«Injustice and discrimination often lead to anger and revenge,» the priest said. «The Maguires had more reason than most to be angry. But Annie was bigger than the injustice she suffered, and through time and prayer she came right in the end. Throughout the ordeal she never lost her dignity or became bitter, and has continued since then to inspire those around her.

«Annie continues to work for her family, parish and community. She has carried the burdens inflicted on her with dignity, and has worked for the good of those around her. All these are acknowledged in this award.»

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