Catholic Primate says he raised concerns about focus of Armagh event

Eamon Martin says issues were taken on board by other church leaders

‘I was a bit afraid at one point that this was going to move into a kind of celebration of the foundation of Northern Ireland and not much else,’ Archbishop Eamon Martin said. File photograph: Dara Mac Donaill

‘I was a bit afraid at one point that this was going to move into a kind of celebration of the foundation of Northern Ireland and not much else,’ Archbishop Eamon Martin said. File photograph: Dara Mac Donaill

 

The Primate of All-Ireland, Archbishop Eamon Martin, has said he raised concerns within the group of church leaders organising a commemorative church service that its focus could become a celebration of Northern Ireland’s centenary.

However Mr Martin said his concerns had been taken on board by the other church leaders.

“I was a bit afraid at one point that this was going to move into a kind of celebration of the foundation of Northern Ireland and not much else and I did voice that with my brothers and sisters in the Church Leaders Group, ” the Archbishop said.

“This was one moment where I felt I really had to voice my concern and I was really pleased that that was heard by the other church leaders and I think that we have recovered the possibility of doing something very special and very deeply symbolic in the autumn,” he said.

The Service of Reflection and Hope, which will take place in Armagh on Thursday, is being organised by the Church Leaders Group - which is made up of the leaders of the island’s main Christian churches. It is intended to “mark the centenary of the partition of Ireland and the formation of Northern Ireland.”

It sparked controversy last month afterPresident Michael D Higgins, turned down an invitation to attend the service because he said it had become politicised and it would be inappropriate for him to attend as head of state.

Archbishop Martin was speaking as part of a podcast series from the Church Leaders Group on the theme of Identity and Belonging: Past, Present, Future.

The week-long series begins on Monday with Archbishop Martin and each episode features a different church leader in conversation with an invited guest.

During the interview the Archbishop spoke of the challenges for him as a Catholic “to have any talk about celebrating the centenary of 1921” and said he had faced criticism from within his own community for his involvement

“I got a lot of emails and letters saying, ‘listen, we want nothing to do with the year 2021, 1921, for us it is simply something that we regret, we see it as a terrible moment of grief and separation’, and I, in many ways, share those.”

However he said that as the leader of the Catholic church in Ireland he had a “responsibility to perhaps encourage members of my own flock to enter into this period of reflection, bringing with us all of our concerns and worries and, let’s say, regrets about the past.”

He said that given the impact of Covid, Brexit and the “increasing tension and disagreement that appear to be there at one level” the church leaders felt it was important to “invite people into a shared space where we could reflect together on identity and belonging.”

Referring to a joint statement issued by the church leaders on St Patrick’s Day, he said one of the most significant aspects of their efforts this year was “our acceptance of a kind of shared responsibility for all that has been going wrong in this part of the world over the last 100 years, and maybe as churches even accepting our part in fomenting, or let’s say not doing enough to discourage discord and disagreement.

“For me that was deeply significant, that kind of shared expression of remorse, and also a commitment to building a deeper understanding of each other this year and, please God, in the years ahead.”