Fr Aidan Troy, born in Co. Wicklow, became known globally as a true symbol of courage during the Holy Cross protests in Belfast in 2001. He has been living in Paris since 2008, based at the English-speaking St Joseph’s Church.
“When I finished secondary school, I decided to try my vocation with the Passionist congregation,” says the 73-year-old priest, “which was normal enough then, but nowadays it’s more normal to wait until after university.”
Fr Aidan took temporary vows for three years and later attended University College Dublin, where he studied Philosophy and Logic. Soon after, he began studying Theology at Clonduff College. He was ordained in December of 1970. His first assignment that summer sent him to London, where he managed a parish while the other priests were away.
While finishing up in London, he was asked to go to Crossgar in Co. Down, where he worked as the Vocation Director recruiting candidates for the order.
“It was a very interesting time,” he explains. “The Troubles were really bad then. I was a southerner going up so it was a very, very wonderful learning experience to do that.”
While posted in the North from 1971 to 1974, Fr Aidan spent a lot of time in both Belfast and Derry and grew very fond of the North and the people he met.
“When the priests were very busy or we were short of priests to say Mass for the detainees in Long Kesh, I would go there and that was a whole new experience for me,” he says. “These weren’t tried prisoners, they were detainees.
“Talking to those men and listening to their stories, having tea with them… I remember it to this day and really appreciate it.”
Some years later, as Fr Aidan approached the end of an assignment in Rome, he was asked to return to the North, to Belfast. He arrived in August of 2001, in the thick of the Holy Cross protests, where schoolgirls were facing protestors blocking their paths to school.
“I was faced then with a question,” he says. “What were we going to do?
“I came in very raw, lacking in knowledge, and that became one of the most wonderful experiences of my life,” he said. “I kind of say that with a smile on my face. After coming out of the world of Rome and the Vatican, suddenly you’re on the streets of Belfast with 225 children going to school and walking them until the armed protesters are gone.”
Fr Aidan let the parents take the lead. “I had no intention of doing anything other than what the parents wanted,” he says. “If they had said to me, ‘no, we’re not going up again,’ I wouldn’t. I met with the parents once a week, minimum, for a discussion about what we’d do, what they wanted. And I just stood there.
“I could not imagine the courage of these parents for the way they held it together. Because of my lack of experience, I thought this would be over in a few days, but it was from September 3 to November 23, every day. And I used to feel like such a failure, thinking I should be able to solve it.”
After almost three months of compromise, cooperation, and conversation, the protests came to a close in late November. “It took everybody about a year, maybe more, to completely settle,” he says. “And that’s what I think is important. You can’t just switch on and off protests and violence. I learned that lesson, and I learned it from listening to a huge number of opinions, unionists, Protestants, Catholics. I became a better person because I had to listen.
“I was in a position where I had to take responsibility for what I said and did, and I would never want to do or say anything to endanger a child on any side of the divide,” he says. “The protesters had children, too. It wouldn’t have done anybody any good if anybody had been hurt. And that is probably one of my happiest memories. With all the violence, nobody was killed and nobody was hurt.”
Fr Aidan’s work during the Holy Cross protests has helped him serve other communities in times of conflict as well, especially during his time in Paris.
“I was here the night of Le Bataclan when 190 people were killed,” he says, “and the Charlie Hebdo killings in the newspaper office and many such awful events, and I’ve never felt afraid.
“I’ve always believed that nobody should die, and hundreds die every day, but even when I was here my remembrance of Holy Cross has taught me that whatever I can do by preaching the next day, [I should do],” he says. “All situations can go very different ways, and what God gives me it is incumbent upon me to use correctly.”
Fr Aidan recently concluded a retreat in Derry that featured, among other things, reconciliation. “I think we need to promote, not just as Catholics and Christians, we need to promote that people must find a way of mutual understanding and reconciliation. Otherwise, we’re going to destroy the world.
“I really believe that reconciliation lies at the heart of so much that is happening,” he says. “No one person holds all the cards to the solution. I think it’s a matter of people of good will being prepared to come together. It’s no one person who can do it, we all have to cooperate together. There’s no other way to do it.”