independent

Sunday 22 October 2017

Titanic commemoration in poor taste

FR BRIAN WHELAN

THERE IS a restaurant in Selfridges which apparently allows people to sample the same meal as was served to the first class passengers on the Titanic on the night it sank.

A commemorative voyage to the exact spot where the Titanic sank set sail from Southampton. The passengers are wearing period costume, and have paid up to £6,000 for their tickets. And indeed many other events were organized to celebrate the 100th anniversary of the tragedy of the Titanic.

On the face of it, it's completely understandable to celebrate such a massive world event, and the 100th anniversary is a milestone that should obviously be marked. In saying that, there is something very wrong with all these celebrations. 1,514 people died on that terrible night and the lives of others changed forever.

We would never countenance holding events to 'celebrate' the Omagh bombings, or to 'celebrate' the World Trade Centre terrorist attack. Nor would we 'celebrate' any event where life was lost through forces of nature such as the Tsunami of 2004. And yet, last week we 'celebrated' the Passion of Jesus on Good Friday, and we do it every year.

And the difference is, that we celebrate the death of Jesus because we know that there is something good that came out of it, namely his resurrection. We celebrate his death, because it resulted in something good. And yes, something good did come from the Titanic, lessons were learned and a tragedy like it will never be allowed to happen again.

But it is hard to escape the feeling that celebrating the Titanic's demise, and the loss of so many lives, is in poor taste. Last year the events that took place to mark the 10th anniversary of 9/11 in New York were carried out with dignity, solemnity, and respect. Remembrance services, quiet reflection, and moments of prayer are much better ways to honour those who die in tragic circumstances. Ever better maritime safety standards and codes would ensure that the Titanic disaster could not be repeated, and yet the Costa Concordia tragedy shows that there is still much more that can and should be done.

One story that is often left out of the movies, and seldom told is that of John Harper, the newly called Pastor to Moody Church who was on his way to Chicago. After the collision, he got his 6-year-old daughter into a lifeboat, but apparently made no attempt to save himself. Instead, he ran throughout the ship yelling, "Women, children and unsaved into the lifeboats! Survivors report that he began witnessing to anyone who would listen, and even continued to preach after he had jumped into the water, clinging to a piece of wreckage.

Harper's final moments were recounted by a survivor, four years after the disaster. "I was drifting alone on a spar that night, when the tide brought Mr. Harper, also on a piece of wreck, near me. 'Man,' he said, 'Are you saved?' 'No,' I said, 'I am not.' He replied, 'Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ and thou shalt be saved.'

The waves bore him away, but strange to say, brought him back a little later, and he said, 'Are you saved now?' 'No,' I said, 'I cannot honestly say that I am.' He said again, 'Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ and thou shalt be saved,' and shortly after, he went down; and there, alone in the night, and with two miles of water under me, I believed. I am John Harper's last convert." He was also one of the only people to be picked up out of the water that night.

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