Eamon Martin: Why I am participating in service to mark partition

Rite&Reason: One has to take risks for peace regardless of hasty or ill-judged comments

Archbishop Eamon Martin at the graves of his predecessors in Armagh: ‘I found myself sharing with them in prayer the sincere hopes that I, and the other church leaders in Ireland, have for the centenary service.’ Photograph: Janet Forbes

Archbishop Eamon Martin at the graves of his predecessors in Armagh: ‘I found myself sharing with them in prayer the sincere hopes that I, and the other church leaders in Ireland, have for the centenary service.’ Photograph: Janet Forbes

 

Side by side, beneath a large Celtic cross in St Patrick’s Cemetery, Co Armagh, lie the graves of three of my predecessors who played a major role in the events of 100 years ago – Cardinal Michael Logue, Cardinal Patrick O’Donnell and Cardinal Joseph MacRory.

I visited their graves recently and found myself sharing with them in prayer the sincere hopes that I, and the other church leaders in Ireland, have for the centenary service on October 21st, and the anxieties and controversy that it has generated.

Cardinal Logue, a native Irish speaker from Carrigart in Donegal, was 81 at the time of partition. He would not attend the State opening of the Northern Ireland parliament and he consistently spoke out about discrimination against the Catholic community in the parliament’s early years.

He was frequently harassed by the “B specials”, but he maintained a resolute voice of opposition to violence and brutality.

Cardinal O’Donnell, another Donegal man, succeeded Cardinal Logue in 1924. He had been a key negotiator and spokesman on behalf of the Catholic Church in the years prior to and after partition, during which time he was passionate to protect the right of parents to a faith-based education.

He earned considerable respect from all sides and, at his sudden death in 1927, he was recognised as “a man of peace and a promoter of the Gospel”.

His successor in 1928 was Cardinal MacRory, from Ballygawley, Co Tyrone, who had been bishop of Down and Connor at the time of partition. There he had witnessed and condemned injustices against the Catholic people of Belfast, the expulsion of Catholic workers from the shipyards in 1920 and the so-called pogroms which ravaged his flock and drove them from their homes and neighbourhoods.

Although he saw the Treaty negotiations in 1921 as an opportunity for peace, for him partition could only be temporary. He steadfastly refused to recognise the Northern Ireland parliament and continued to work for a united Ireland.

‘Discord’ and ‘strife’

All three of my predecessors, with their brother bishops in Ireland, opposed partition, stating that it “could never be anything but a perennial source of discord and fraternal strife”.

Standing by their graves a century later, I couldn’t agree more. At the beginning of 2021, I shared with my brothers and sisters in the other Christian churches that I could not think of “celebrating” the centenary of the foundation of Northern Ireland and the partition of Ireland.

We felt it was important for us to do something together this year in a spirit of prayer and friendship

At the same time, we felt it was important for us to do something together this year in a spirit of prayer and friendship to emphasise our common Christian commitment to peace, healing and reconciliation.

Sadly, like many other initiatives in this part of the world, the controversy and commentary in recent weeks surrounding the Service of Reflection and Hope has tended to distort our intention and sincere hopes for a unique moment of shared contemplation and prayer.

In a joint statement issued on St Patrick’s Day, the church leaders emphasised the need to “be intentional in creating spaces for encounter with those who are different from us, and those who may feel marginalised in the narratives that have shaped our community identity”.

In doing so, we aimed “to face difficult truths about failings in our own leadership in the work of peace and reconciliation”.

This week’s Christian act of worship will involve people from across the community – from diverse backgrounds and traditions, and with different beliefs and aspirations – coming together to pray for the healing of past hurts and to seek God’s guidance in a spirit of hope for the future.

Barriers transcended

At the heart of our joint engagements over the course of this year, we have kept our focus on building relationships for the future. We know that sometimes one has to take risks for peace and that fragile relationships can easily be undermined by hasty or ill-judged comments.

Last October, Pope Francis issued his encyclical, Fratelli Tutti on human fraternity and social friendship. He borrowed the title from the words of St Francis of Assisi who proposed a way of life, inspired by the Gospel, in which we see everyone as our sister or our brother.

The Gospel calls us to a love which “transcends the barriers of geography and distance”

The Gospel calls us to a love which “transcends the barriers of geography and distance” and sees each person as brother or sister, regardless of where he or she was born or lives, and despite differences of origin, nationality, colour or religion.

Pope Francis remarks that sometimes it is important to do some things simply because they are good in themselves, without concern for personal gain or recompense.

It was in this spirit that the church leaders put together the centenary service and invited various representatives and leaders to join us in prayer, in lament for past failures and in hope for a better and more reconciled future.

In a spirit of goodwill and prayer, I invite you to join your prayers with those Christian church leaders, at 11.00am on Thursday, October 21st, as we gather for a Service of Reflection and Hope which will be broadcast live from Armagh across these islands on the RTÉ and BBC television networks.

Standing by the graves of my esteemed predecessors, Cardinals Logue, O’Donnell and MacRory, I hope and trust that their dream for a more harmonious and peaceful Ireland will soon come to pass.

The Most Revd Eamon Martin is Catholic Archbishop of Armagh and Primate of All Ireland

The Irish Times Logo
Commenting on The Irish Times has changed. To comment you must now be an Irish Times subscriber.
SUBSCRIBE
GO BACK
Error Image
The account details entered are not currently associated with an Irish Times subscription. Please subscribe to sign in to comment.
Comment Sign In

Forgot password?
The Irish Times Logo
Thank you
You should receive instructions for resetting your password. When you have reset your password, you can Sign In.
The Irish Times Logo
Please choose a screen name. This name will appear beside any comments you post. Your screen name should follow the standards set out in our community standards.
Screen Name Selection

Hello

Please choose a screen name. This name will appear beside any comments you post. Your screen name should follow the standards set out in our community standards.

The Irish Times Logo
Commenting on The Irish Times has changed. To comment you must now be an Irish Times subscriber.
SUBSCRIBE
Forgot Password
Please enter your email address so we can send you a link to reset your password.

Sign In

Your Comments
We reserve the right to remove any content at any time from this Community, including without limitation if it violates the Community Standards. We ask that you report content that you in good faith believe violates the above rules by clicking the Flag link next to the offending comment or by filling out this form. New comments are only accepted for 3 days from the date of publication.