‘Never take peace for granted’, say Archbishops of Northern Ireland

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ARMAGH, Northern Ireland – In a joint St. Patrick’s Day message, the Catholic and Anglican Archbishops of Armagh say the war in Ukraine is a lesson for Northern Ireland to “never take peace for granted.” and to “never give up on dialogue, building bridges and mutual understanding across historical divides.

Catholic Archbishop Eamon Martin and Anglican Archbishop John McDowell, whose dioceses straddle both sides of the Irish border, made their comments after leading the annual St Patrick’s Day conference organized by local borough councils.

Armagh is where St. Patrick built a church in the 5th century. Each year, the conference offers insight into how the testimony of Saint Patrick speaks to the contemporary world. This year’s conference was March 16, St. Patrick’s Eve, with the theme, “St. Patrick as Model of Reconciliation and Peace.

The two clerics called for an end to the “unnecessary slaughter and pulverization of the goods, bodies and minds of the Ukrainian people”.

“What is happening today in Europe should help us draw lessons for our own peace process,” they stressed.

Speaking to Catholic News Service, Bishop Martin said, “We must learn here on this island from Ukraine the importance of continuing progress in peace, dialogue and diplomacy. We should never take peace for granted.

He warned there was a pre-election temptation for party leaders “to fall back into tribal politics, to look around corners and talk to each other”.

Elections to the Northern Ireland Assembly are scheduled for May 5; 90 seats in 18 constituencies will be in contention.

Bishop McDowell stressed that peace can only be achieved through “very patient diplomacy over many, many years,” especially when territory is disputed.

“We have the Good Friday Agreement, which some people don’t like, but which has served us very well, for a place that has a dual identity – or multiple identities now – and multiple ways to express its allegiance. To some extent Ukraine and Russia are a bit like that,” the Anglican Archbishop said.

Archbishop Martin regretted that as the world emerges from a global pandemic “which has reminded us so strongly of our connectedness and interdependence”, Europe “has so easily crumbled into unnecessary divisions and the devastation of War War is a defeat for humanity It represents the failure of politics, diplomacy and dialogue.

The two church leaders called for an immediate ceasefire in Ukraine and an end to the “relentless shelling, which has trapped countless civilians in a nightmare of destruction and displaced millions more from their homes and of their families”. They said they feared the humanitarian crisis would accelerate before dissipating.

In their statement, they said it would be “unconscionable for us to celebrate St. Patrick’s Day this year without offering the solidarity of our prayers, charity and hospitality to the people of Ukraine.”

They encouraged Christians in Ireland and the Irish Diaspora to be inspired by the life and witness of Saint Patrick and to be reconcilers and peacemakers.

Parishes north and south of the Irish border are currently identifying possible vacant accommodation to offer Ukrainian refugees, and churches are encouraging parishioners to offer accommodation in their homes.

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