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We learn from Rememberings that O'Connor's feelings about her mother and her sympathetic identification with black people played a role in the famous incident of tearing up the picture of the Pope. It was a very carefully planned gesture - and a very lonely one. She had no accomplices (after it occurred, she says, her manager locked himself in his room for three days and unplugged his phone).

She was singing two songs on a live programme, as the name suggests, Saturday Night Live. The second was an a capella version of Bob Marley's song 'War' based on 'a speech given to the United Nations by the Ethiopian emperor Haile Selassie in New York in 1963 about racism being the cause of all wars.' During the rehearsal she held up 'a photo of a Brazilian street kid who was killed by cops. I ask the cameraman to zoom in on the photo during the actual show. I don’t tell him what I have in mind for later on. Everyone’s happy. A dead child far away is no one’s problem.'

The photograph of John Paul II she used had been taken from her mother's bedroom. She had been carrying it around with her ever since her mother died. When she tore it up she shouted 'Fight the real enemy.' There is a story behind that as well.

While living in New York she had got involved with a group of Rastafarians, a lifelong attachment:

'Jamaicans don’t do small talk. At first this is a bit uncomfortable because Irish people are always filling the gaps. I find myself in silence in fish-filled vans making deliveries, just like I did with my grandfather. I thought they didn’t like me was why they were silent. But it ain’t anything other than they are watchers. They’re watching out for God everywhere. They’re like God’s security detail. That’s how they see themselves, and that is exactly how they are. They’re like Saint Michael leading God’s angels to war against Satan. Like zillions of Saint Michaels all rolled into one huge pyre of prophecy. They’re watching for the devil too. That’s the enemy of God. The devil is their Lee Harvey Oswald. They only speak when it’s about Scripture.'

However just before she left New York, her particular friend, Terry, who ran the juice bar where they all met, took her aside and informed her that he was about to be killed. It turned out that he was a dealer in drugs and guns. He used children as 'mules. They have guns and drugs in their schoolbags, not books.' He had trespassed on someone else's territory and knew they would get him. She realises that her friends - some of them at least - are fake Rastas. When it comes to Saturday Night Live she decides she's 'gonna change a few lines to be a declaration of war against child abuse. Because I’m pissed at Terry for what he told me last night. I’m pissed he’s been using kids to run drugs. And I’m pissed he’s gonna be dead by Monday. It also happens I’ve been pissed off for a few weeks because I’ve been reading The Holy Blood and the Holy Grail (a contrarian, blasphemous history of the early church) and also over a brief article, buried in the back of an Irish newspaper, hinting that children have been abused by priests but their stories are not believed by the police nor the bishops their parents report it to. So I’ve been thinking even more of destroying my mother’s photo of JP2. And I decide tonight is the night ... I yell, “Fight the real enemy!” (I’m talking to those who are gonna kill Terry.)'

That was on Saturday. Terry was killed on Monday.

The time she spent in a reformatory run by nuns (consequence of her becoming a teenage kleptomaniac, following the example set by her mother) also contributed to her feelings. The reformatory was attached to a hospice that looked after women who had worked in the Magdalen laundries. The two institutions were kept strictly separate. One night however, as a punishment for running away, she was sent by herself to sleep in the hospice:

'I never ran away again after my night in the hospice. In the morning when I woke, I knew what Sister Margaret had been trying to tell me. The worst part was, I knew she wasn’t being unkind. She was being a nun I’d never seen before. She deliberately hadn’t told me why I was to go to a part of the building I’d never known existed, climb a flight of stairs I would never have been allowed to ascend if I’d asked to, knock on a door I would previously not have been permitted to touch, and enter such a scene with no staff present. She let me figure it out for myself - if I didn’t stop running away, I would someday be one of those old ladies.'

Still, it may seem unreasonable to blame all that on the Pope. An explanation might be found by turning again to 'Prayer for England':

'See the teachers 
Are representing you 
So badly 
That not many can see you'

She sees the problem as essentially religious.