1 JANUARY 2001

Prayer for peace never ceases in the world. It goes on all the time. The reason is that people long for peace from the depth of their hearts. Today, the Church celebrates the solemnity of Mary, the Mother of God. It is also the World Day of Peace. Today we unite with Catholics around the world to pray for the gift of peace and to say “Deliver us Lord from every evil and grant us peace in our days”.

2000 years after the birth of Christ there is not peace in the world. In Bethlehem, the place where the Prince of Peace was born, Arab and Jew, fight each other in a deadly struggle. There are many other places of conflict. Obviously the paths which men and women follow in order to obtain peace are not always the ways of God. We must turn to Jesus Christ and listen once more to God announcing the gift of peace in him. Jesus, is our bond of peace with our brothers and sisters. He became the brother of all men and women. He constantly reminds us that we are all children of the same Heavenly Father.

In his message for the World Day of Peace, Pope John Paul II sees a growing hope at the dawn of the New Millennium. The hope is that relationships between people will be increasingly inspired by the ideal of a truly universal brotherhood. When people begin to realise, more clearly, that we are all brothers and sisters, children of God, our Father, then there is a basis for a stable peace.

In Northern Ireland, seeds of hope continue to be sown. The past year has been one of slow, but steady progress. Steady progress on the journey towards peace. The fact that the Assembly was reactivated after a period of suspension is encouraging. A programme for government has been agreed and published, a budget has been approved. Parties are engaged in the democratic process. The importance of having a local administration to deal with the day-to-day business of government is appreciated. These are the signs of hope. Confidence is growing. There is a feeling abroad that the corner has been turned. The prospect of a bright new future has been sighted. Hopefully the tide of trust will continue to flow and grow. Could we live with the shame of letting the prize of peace slip through our fingers because of something we failed to do? Unfortunately, some clouds overshadow these bright hopes. The threat of violence, indeed the reality of violence, persists in our divided society. Killings and feuding, exclusions and explosions prove once again how hard it is to settle differences when ancient hatreds create a climate of anger and exasperation. The lack of progress on the issues still to be resolved is alarming. Good faith is being called into question.

The road to a lasting peace is long and hard and torturous. There are often obstacles and many setbacks. Yet it is the road which we must all take. Jesus said, “Blessed are the peacemakers”. Peacemakers know that they themselves depend on God. They are God’s agents at work in the world. They try to carry out God’s agenda. At the top of that agenda is the creation of a world in which the goods of the earth are fairly distributed, a world where no-one is forgotten or left out or left behind. A world in which nobody rests satisfied until the hunger of all has been satisfied.

In his message for peace today the Pope invites believers in Christ and all men and women of goodwill to reflect on the theme of dialogue – dialogue between cultures and nations. He says that this dialogue is the obligatory path to the building of a reconciled world. Of course the peace process here is the fruit of long and patient discussions and negotiations. It is in fact the fruit of dialogue. The United Nations has declared 2001 The International Year of Dialogue Among Nations.

Continuing his reflection, the Pope points out that people need to accept their own culture. Being firmly linked to one’s roots is important. It gives a balanced development. In this way people get a sense of their nationality. The Pope says, “Love for one’s country is a value to be fostered”. It is a value to be fostered without narrow-mindedness. It must not be such a narrow love of one’s own country that it excludes love for the whole human family as well. It is important to recognise the value of one’s own culture certainly but at the same time every culture is something human. It has its limitations. Our sense of belonging to one culture should not turn into isolation. To prevent this happening, knowledge of other cultures is also important. Then it will emerge that all cultures have a lot in common. There are values that are common to all. In the past, cultural differences have been a cause of conflict. What cultures have in common was often forgotten.

Pope John Paul II addresses another vexed question in today’s message, namely the challenge of migration. He reminds us that the movement of large numbers of people, from one part of the planet to another, is often a terrible odyssey for those involved. How migrants are welcomed by receiving countries and how well they become integrated in their new situation, is an indication of how much effective dialogue there is between the various cultures. The Irish experience is one of migration in all sorts of ways to many different countries. It brought new growth and enrichment. The Holy Father regrets that there are situations in which the difficulties involved in migration have never been resolved and tensions have become the cause of outbreak of conflict. It is clear that there are no magic formulas. However, some basic moral principles must be kept in mind. Refugees, asylum seekers, immigrants of any kind, must always be treated with the respect due to the dignity of every human person. The challenge is to combine the welcome due to every human being, especially to someone in need, with respect for the common good of the local inhabitants. Governments have the right and duty to control the influx of immigrants, since they have to protect the common good of their people, but at the same time they have to show the respect and welcome due to every human being.

I gladly pass on to you the appeal of Pope John Paul II in today’s message that we all become witnesses and missionaries for forgiveness and reconciliation. We have here in Northern Ireland a tragic heritage of war and conflict, violence and hatred. That heritage lives on in the memory of people. There is only one way to break down the barriers and that is by forgiveness and reconciliation. The Pope concedes that many will maintain that this is naïve but he insists, that from the Christian point of view, it is the only way which leads to the long desired good of peace.

The Holy Father bases his confidence on what happened in Calvary. Shortly before dying, Jesus, said, “Father, forgive them for they know not what they do”. The man crucified on his right, hearing these words, opens his hearts to the grace of conversion, welcomes the Gospel of Forgiveness and receives the promise of eternal happiness. The Holy Father is adamant that the example of Christ makes us certain that the many impediments to dialogue between people can indeed be torn down. For when we gaze upon the Crucified One we are filled with confidence that forgiveness and reconciliation can become the normal practice of everyday life.

The question is often asked what can the Churches do in addition to praying? We can work together to promote the awareness that a relationship with God the Father of all beings, brings about a greater sense of solidarity among people, when they see themselves as Children of God.

Secondly, we can engage more seriously in dialogue to discover the many and important elements which we have in common. We can also address more fully and more earnestly, what divides, what wounds and what hurts. We can work together to help people address the difficulties of immigration and we can unite in calling people to be witnesses and missionaries of peace and reconciliation.

The prayer for peace and the work for greater understanding among people of different backgrounds must continue. The St. Oliver Plunkett Peace and Reconciliation Movement is based in Drogheda. Last October the Committee initiated a National Day of Prayer to coincide with the 25th anniversary of the canonisation of St. Oliver. They phoned every Parish Priest in the country to ask their help. They were very pleased with the response and they are convinced that hundreds of parishes joined in prayer on that day.

The Pope ends his message with an appeal to young people to become men and women capable of solidarity, peace and love of life with respect for everyone. He asks them to become craftsmen of a new humanity where brothers and sisters, members all of the same family are able at last to live in peace. The challenge is not confined to young people; it is one for all of us.