How Christ's return caught the great and good off guard  

Click to follow
The Independent Online

Of all the mail that arrives in Beirut for me, none is more singular, more crammed with biblical quotation, more bizarre than the packet that regularly arrives from a certain Father Neil Horan of Nunhead. For not only does this Kerry-born priest prophesy the Second Coming and the setting up of a World Government; he has a stack of letters from the great and the good ­ from Tony Blair to the Royal Thai embassy, from Lord Tebbit to the Israeli chairman of "the International Forum for a United Jerusalem" ­ expressing appreciation to him for sending his predictions, without apparently realising that one of them is the arrival of Jesus Christ as Commander-in-Chief of the Israeli army.

Now this would be an onerous undertaking for any messiah although, to be fair, Father Horan ­ author of a book called A Glorious New World ­ also suggests that "the present troubles [sic] between Israelis and Palestinians may well be the start of those birth pangs" of Christ's arrival. If all this seems a trifle unlikely, Father Horan encloses a map which shows the new (post-Second Coming) Israel; it includes all of the Levant, much of Iraq, southern Iran, Saudi Arabia and the entire Arabian peninsula.

Father Horan has not yet told me if he has been writing to the Saudi ambassador about this. But the real joy of all this are those letters from politicians, diplomats and embassies, many of whom must have written their formal replies without bothering to read the contents of Father Horan's prophecies.

Margaret Thatcher's parliamentary private secretary, Michael Alison, writes to Father Horan in 1987 to tell him that the Prime Minister thanked him for "your most interesting book and other references to your sterling and imaginative efforts in the cause of promoting world peace".

In 1991, Tony Blair's private secretary, Sandra Philips, was more careful, noting only that Mr Blair was "most grateful" for the book. But there is a truly imperishable note from Lord Tebbit. "Dear Father Horan," he writes in May of this year in response to a letter from the priest about religion and the EU. "Alas, the only religion supported by the European Union is the religion of centralised undemocratic power."

Father Horan, who met the Pope in 1983, is no traditional end-of-the-world campaigner. He has worked for Anglo-Irish peace and friendship; 18 years ago he led a delegation to meet Mrs Thatcher, presenting her with a copy of the 1916 Declaration of the Irish Republic. He says Mrs Thatcher said it was "sacred writing" ­ which doesn't sound very much like Mrs Thatcher to me. But the letters are seamless. Given Father Horan's view that Israel's ability to "make the desert bloom" and its capture of east Jerusalem in the 1967 Six Day War were all the result of biblical prophecy, it's perhaps not surprising that Eliyahu Tal, chairman of the Jerusalem-based "International Forum for a United Jerusalem", tells the priest in 1993 that "we sincerely feel that you are one of the Christians who care for Zion and love Jerusalem", noting that "Christian Zionism" traces its beginnings to 1621 and promising to give Father Horan's views wide publicity.

Once installed as King of Israel, Father Horan writes, Jesus "will hug Jewish, Palestinian, Black, White and Asian children". There is no mention of Muslims, and it was a polite 1993 letter from the Muslim High Commissioner of Nigeria in London, Alhaji Abubakar Alhaji, which provided the most ironic reply.

"While one may not agree with all your views," he wrote, "and although some of them are not entirely new, the forthright manner in which you have expressed your convictions regarding the oblivion which you say is soon to consume the world ... gives new meanings to these convictions."

There's a truly sharp 1999 reply from Clare Short. "Thank you for your letter," she writes. "I have noted your comments."

But Father Horan ­ mercifully he does not appear to have a website ­ does not confine his prophesying to Africa, the Middle East, Europe and No 10 Downing Street. In a 1992 letter, the Thai embassy in London says that the ambassador finds Father Horan's book "of considerable interest, blending as it skilfully does, a factual presentation of the religions of the world with the message ... of their movement towards the focal point in Israel". Astonishingly, the embassy announces that "it is intended to make the book available to Thai people".

The Horan theory of the Second Coming is quite simple: Christ will rule the world from Jerusalem and there will be two classes of people: "Immortal Saints" who will rule a World Government for 1,000 years from Jerusalem; and "Mortal Citizens" who will become "adopted Jews" and live for a mere 900 years.

Father Horan also performs a "peace dance" ­ he did so outside the BBC not long ago ­ and has now written to the Prime Minister again. "Dear Tony," he writes. "Can I come to Downing Street, and do my Peace Dance for you, your Family, and everyone at No 10 ­ from executives to cleaners and caterers." The dance would take just three minutes, Mr Horan promises. I have not the slightest doubt Father Horan will send me Mr Blair's reply.