On this World Day of Peace my thoughts are very much centred on the late Archbishop Michael Courtney, brutally murdered in Burundi last Monday. Six weeks ago to the day (20 November 2003) we met in Rwanda. Michael was in good form. He was convinced that the peace processes in Burundi and Rwanda were going well. At the same time he appeared tense and preoccupied. He was someone who believed that peace does not just happen; it must be made to happen.

Peacemaking requires respect and a great deal of grinding patience. Jesus said: “Blessed are the peacemakers”. But peacemaking is difficult and sometimes dangerous, very dangerous, as Archbishop Courtney knew too well. But he also knew that the responsibility for fostering peace is not limited to government. It is part of the following of the Prince of Peace.

Archbishop Courtney took the words of Christ – Blessed are the Peacemakers -very seriously. He has paid for his commitment to peace with his life. We know that Jesus keeps his promises. Today we pray that Michael Courtney is among the blessed of the Kingdom of the Lord.

All who are committed to peace must work on a daily basis for justice, and seek to understand and forgive others when wrongs are done to them. It was for this that the Child of Bethlehem came among us. His adult words are worth reflecting on here: “As I have loved you, so you must love one another. If you have love for one another, then everyone will know that you are my disciples.” (John 13.37f).


The war in Iraq last year did not produce any clear winners. We saw a weakening of the United Nations and its consensus-building approach to international affairs, in favour of the individual determination of nation-states, prompted by varying complex reasons. As Pope John Paul II points out in his New Year’s message today, there is now a temptation to appeal to the law of force over the force of law.

The growth of international terrorism certainly requires a security response, but not exclusively so. While terrorism can never be excused, it can be explained, and we must always tackle the reasons for terrorism where the aims and concerns inspiring it may be deemed just and legitimate. The developing world is strewn with injustices and inequalities, which create the whirlwinds of recruitment to terrorist cells. Famine and pestilence are real weapons of mass destruction, and a basic cause of instability in our world, and must be destroyed through the concerted and continuous collaboration of the international community.


With the assumption of the Presidency of the European Union, I hope that Ireland can literally set out an agenda for peace on the international stage. I hope that Ireland’s pivotal influence over the next six months can refocus world attention on the problems of the developing world, particularly on Africa, which remains a stain on the conscience of the western world.


Our own fragile peace process shows just how much hard work, patience and understanding are needed to make peace happen. Despite an apparent hardening of attitudes in 2003, it is important that we all remain committed to and focused on the search for a just and lasting peace in Northern Ireland.
Part of that work involves acts of closure such as the Tribunal of Inquiry into Bloody Sunday. Although there have been criticisms of the amount of money spent on such inquiries, I believe that they are legitimate and necessary vehicles to acknowledge the hurts and injustices of the past.

To build confidence in the future we must also have other types of acts of closure or completion. I refer specifically to the need for the decommissioning of all paramilitary weapons, the modern equivalent of turning swords into ploughshares, of which the prophet Isaiah spoke. As with the inquiries and other reforms, decommissioning is not easy for some, but it must happen, and it is an integral part of our long quest for peace.


There is one act of completion and closure that would benefit greatly the lives of some particular families within Northern Ireland – the families of the Disappeared. For these families, there can no closure and no peace of mind until they are allowed to bury their loved ones. Funerals and burials have a particularly important place in our culture since they are personal ceremonies for closure and saying goodbye. I hope that during 2004 all those who can help will do so, and that all the families of the Disappeared will finally be able to say farewell to those they have lost.


During 2003, while we were striving for tolerance between Republican and Loyalist, between Nationalist and Unionist, there was a marked rise in the level of racist attacks against foreign nationals in Northern Ireland. Last month we heard of a series of barbaric and heinous attacks on defenceless women in South Belfast motivated solely by racism. The problem of racism is not exclusive to the North, but I do think it would be a supreme irony for us to solve our old sectarian prejudices, only to replace them with a new bigotry based on colour or ethnicity. We must work towards greater tolerance of all creeds and colours during this coming year.


Countries and communities are not the only ones which can be terrorised and attacked. On this World Day of Peace, I would also like to remember those who suffer from domestic violence. For most homes the festive period was one of harmony and peace, but for an unfortunate minority it was one of increased anxiety and indeed violence. As we pray for peace in the world and within our own community, let us also pray for peace for those families who suffer from kitchen-sink wars fought behind closed doors. As a society we can work for peace in such homes by addressing our attitudes to alcohol and domestic violence, for example, as well as by assessing the State’s provision of services in this regard, North and South.


Finally, I wish to pray for those who are suffering from mental health problems and depression. As we pray for world peace, let us also pray for peace of mind for those who suffer internally and alone. As a society we need to address our attitudes to mental illness. The stigmatisation of such illness makes the loneliness and pain all the more palpable for the sufferer. We must strive to attain a greater understanding of mental health problems so that we may help others achieve a greater peace of mind.


We stand at the dawn of a new year. We know not what it holds, nor where it will take us. That said, we can hope and pray that it will be a year of greater peace. As we ring out the old year and ring in a new one, let me quote the poet Alfred Tennyson:

Ring out false pride in place and blood,
The civic slander and the spite;
Ring in the love of truth and right,
Ring in the common love of good
Ring out the old shapes of foul disease;
Ring out the narrowing lust of gold;
Ring out the thousand wars of old,
Ring in the thousand years of peace
Ring in the valiant man and free
The larger heart, the kindlier hand;
Ring out the darkness of the land;
Ring in the Christ that is to be. (In Memoriam AHH, 1850)