It is a great privilege for me to contribute to this publication. I commend this timely initiative and thank those spearheading it.

Few countries honour the person or persons responsible for the Christian evangelisation of their country the way Ireland does. The people of this country are particularly fortunate and privileged in knowing so much about and sensing such a special bond with St Patrick who brought the Good News of Jesus Christ to our shores. In recalling the pivotal role which he played in the redemption and salvation of our people we honour St Patrick; much more importantly, however, we honour the message which he brought and the God which he preached. St Patrick could not have arrived one day too early to share the Good News of the one true God, the God who is one and three at the same time. Indeed 400 years after the death of Christ seems an unbearably long time for our forebears in this land to have lived in the darkness of not knowing their true God and Creator. With the Prophet Isaiah we can joyfully if belatedly proclaim: “The people that walked in darkness have seen a great light; those who lived in a land of deep darkness – on them light has shined.” (9:2)

When I consider St Patrick I think particularly of his wonderful sense of God. He was extremely aware of the presence of God with him. He knew the Lord in a very personal way. He sought the glory of God in all things. He knew that he himself was just an instrument. His own glory he did not seek but the Kingdom of God in all its fullness and riches he was eager to build in Ireland and to share its bounty with the Irish.

I also think of Patrick as a man of peace and reconciliation. He willingly forgave his captors. While his heart could easily have been destroyed by hatred and bitterness after his humiliating experience of enslavement, he was ready to forgive. Had his heart become hardened the self-abandoning generosity necessary to preach Jesus Christ would not have been possible for him. Rather in the Lord all things were reconciled for him. In his own life he experienced in a very real way the fruits of the death and resurrection of Jesus. He felt an irresistible compulsion to share this with others, even those who had earlier held him in bondage.

Here in Armagh where Patrick founded his first “stone church” in 445 the St Patrick’s Day celebrations are special. It is traditional for the Archbishop to celebrate Mass in the Cathedral of St Patrick and to distribute shamrock afterwards to the boy scouts and to the girl guides. Two years ago it was a great privilege for me to preach at Evensong in St Patrick’s Church of Ireland Cathedral on St Patrick’s Day.

I would certainly wish to see St Patrick’s Day celebrated throughout Ireland by all traditions. First and foremost we should seek to honour Patrick by the worship due to our common God. Afterwards we are enriched by our secular celebrations, rejoicing in that which is best in our peoples and in our country and in that to which we justly and happily aspire. It would be wonderful if St Patrick’s Day were for all our people a day apart, a day of prayer and worship, colour and festive music, rest and national pride.

That St Patrick’s Day should be an occasion of division in our land seems to involve a serious contradiction. St Patrick is a symbol of unity pointing all in the direction of the same Father and Saviour recognised by all Christians. None of us must seek to monopolise the faith he brought us. None of us should feel excluded from the celebrations in his honour. We should all become acquainted with his powerful writings, his Confession and Letter to Coroticus; this would seem a very valuable and necessary beginning in a deepening understanding of our shared Patrician heritage.

Go dtaga Ríocht Dé inár measc mar ba thoil le Aspal na hÉireann.

May the Kingdom of God come among us as the Apostle of the Irish wished.

12 January, 2001