1 JANUARY 2005

I have a friend called Mariadas Kagithapu, who lives on the east coast of India in the city of Visakhapatnam. I tried to ring him in recent days to see if he and his community have survived the calamity but without success. It is amazing – every day we hear news of disasters but somehow the scale and the circumstances of this latest one were different.


So today, we are united in grief and concern for the victims. We are united in bewilderment at how something like this could happen. We are united in shock and sorrow at the sudden death of so many hundreds of thousands of fellow human beings. We are united in awe and dismay at our own fragile hold on human life. Gradually we are also becoming united in our awareness and knowledge that we belong to the same family – the Human Family. We may have different countries of origin; different colours of skin; different politics and beliefs but ultimately, we all have a common origin and the same final destiny. We are all citizens of the same planet. No doubt those victims had loving mothers and doting fathers. Their hopes were similar to our own, to be happy and to have a peaceful New Year and to make a difference.

Out of this gradual awareness of our common origin and of our same final destiny, there comes a growing need to help and to rescue, to share and to mobilise in solidarity. We have become more aware of our responsibility to reach out to one another in times of disaster and of crisis. We have come to realise that we are indeed our brothers’ and sisters’ keepers.


There are many tragic situations in the world but this is surely one of the worst. Faced with such situations Christians believe that God alone can enable people to over come evil and achieve good. Because we are certain that evil will not prevail, we nourish an invincible hope, which sustains our efforts to promote justice and peace. For peace is something good, very good indeed and it is the fruit of solidarity. If you were to ask the average person what they want for the New Year my bet is that peace and good health for themselves and for their families and for all whom they love would be high on their list.


Each year the Holy Father prepares and issues, some time before Christmas, a message for the World Day of Peace. This year the message was published on the 8th December. But, in the light of the horrific events of last Monday in South East Asia, that Message has now assumed, in my opinion, an importance of far greater dimensions. It states:

“As a member of the human family, each person becomes, as it were, a citizen of the world with consequent duties and rights since all human beings are united by a common origin and the same supreme destiny”.

Pope John Paul II is reminding each one of us that we are citizens of the world since we all belong to the same family – the human family. We come from God. We are all united by the same supreme destiny. We go to God – God is the Alpha and the Omega – God is our beginning and our end. We are, in fact, brothers and sisters, children of the same Creator – God.


The Holy Father goes on to spell out some of the rights and duties that flow from the fact that we all belong to the same family – the Human Family. He says:
“By the mere fact of being conceived, a child is entitled to rights and deserving of care and attention and someone has the duty to provide this”.

I was in the Special Babies Unit of the Royal Maternity Hospital, Belfast a short time before Christmas and I saw there just how much care babies, every baby, needs at birth. But, in particular those babies who have been born prematurely and those who have special needs. But, thank God, there are so many dedicated mothers and fathers as well as so many dedicated nurses and doctors who devote so much loving care and attention to babies in this country. All the babies in the world, however, are not so fortunate.
Recently the Annual Report of UNICEF, that is, the United Nations Children’s Organisation, drew attention to the plight of millions of under-privileged children around the world. It reports that
More than a billion children are being denied the rights contained in the Convention on the Rights of the Child agreed by World Leaders in 1989,
For example, one in twenty-one (21), that is, ninety million children are severely hungry,
One in seven (7) two hundred and seventy million have no health care at all.
Children accounted for nearly half the 3.6 million people killed in wars since 1990.
2.2 million children die each year through lack of immunisation while
1.4 million children die each year due to lack of access to safe water or sanitation.

At the time of the millennium eight development goals were agreed upon to be met by 2015 and it was agreed that it would cost somewhere in the region of 40 to 70 billion dollars. In 2003 world military spending was 956 billion dollars. Let us hope and pray that the commitments of meeting the eight Millennium Development Goals will be kept.


The precious prize of peace is closely linked to the development of all peoples. In other words, if the good things of creation were available equally to all the members of the Human Family, then peace among the citizens of this world would be made much more secure. All the indications are that the earth and all the good things it contains were intended, by the Creator of the earth, for the use of everyone on this earth and of all peoples. Surely the Creator intends the goods of this earth for all the sons and daughters of the same Creator Father, to be shared equally among all the brothers and sisters of the human family.


In recent days we have seen, and in days and weeks and months to come, we will see, please God, a most powerful mobilisation of solidarity with all those unfortunate people of South East Asia.
What we are seeing here is the application of the principle of world citizenship. It is unfortunate that it takes a disaster of this scale to bring home to us the fact that we are all members of the one Human Family and that we all have responsibilities to each other. But what a welcome change from the mobilisation of international coalitions to wage war and wreak destruction!

We thank God for courageous news reporters and journalists and camera crews who risk their own lives and certainly sacrifice their own comforts to bring these images and stories into our living rooms. As we reflect on this immense tragedy we will be moved to dig deep into our pockets and our wallets to help our unfortunate brothers and sisters of those disaster stricken countries. We will remember them in our prayers and in our sacrifices.

Bishop Patrick Walsh has invited people of Down and Connor to fast on Friday next for the sake of these victims. I would like to think that people in this diocese would consider a similar fast and donate the proceeds of the fast to the victims of this terrible tragedy.

As a result of our reflection we will also hopefully become more sensitive to the needs of the immigrants in our own midst such as the Lithuanians, the Latvians, the Portuguese. We may come to realise their fears and their insecurities but also their hopes and their aspirations for the New Year.
But, as we contemplate this immense human tragedy, let us determine to work for the just and fair development of all nations. For this is the basis – the sound basis – for a real and lasting peace.

Compared with the tragedy in Asia, our problems seem very slight indeed. Yet it is a great pity that once more the peace process here is halted. Is it a sign that lasting peace needs something more than political structures and mechanisms? Perhaps what is missing is a greater capacity, in all of us, to accept and understand what is different and a greater willingness to forgive from the heart. We all need to be forgiven by others, so we must be all ready to forgive. Asking and giving forgiveness is something profoundly human but it does not happen spontaneously and naturally. However, sometimes it is the only way out of situations blocked by ancient animosities.

The difficulty of forgiving does not always arise from present circumstances but can often have its roots in the fears and suspicions, the hatreds and divisions of the distant past. A sort of healing of memories may be needed to ensure that nobody remains a prisoner of the past. Such a healing may be required to bring about the kind of warmth of relationships, acceptance and understanding, which would be desirable among prospective partners in a shared and peaceful future. Perhaps it is time for us all to bite the lip, let go of our hurts, ask and offer forgiveness and move on for the sake of the greater good. It is not a case of forgetting the past but rather of examining it with a new attitude and a new outlook in the light of suffering endured in order to learn the lesson that the deadly cycle of revenge can, and should be replaced, once and for all, by the kind of freedom which is the fruit of forgiveness from the heart.
It is interesting that World Day of Peace is celebrated on the Feast of Mary, the Mother of Jesus. Jesus – the son of Mary – was foretold by the prophet, Isaiah as the ‘Prince of Peace’. When at last he came, the angels sang out:

Glory to God on the Highest and peace on earth among those whom He favours.
Mary is often invoked under the title ‘Queen of Peace’. Today we do so again as we place ourselves, and all our loved ones, under her patronage, as we pray for peace in 2005. This is the year dedicated to the Eucharist – the supreme sacrament of love. By sharing in the one bread we come to realise that we are not only ONE family but GOD’S family as well and that together we can make our own effective contribution to building a world based on the values of Justice, Freedom and Peace.