I thank the Knights of St Columbanus here in Armagh for the kind invitation to be here.  It gives me a very welcome opportunity to thank and pay tribute to the Order for its outstanding dedication to the service of Christ.  That service is given in daily life; in the workplace and in the market place.  Of course it provides an excellent meal and very enjoyable social friendship too.

I am very pleased and proud to know that there are so many Catholic men in our community who are willing and able to offer their talents, time and skills to the service of Christ and of his body – the Church.  In an age of rampant individualism it is heartening to find many people wholeheartedly committed to the promotion of Christian values – men who do so for the good of society and for the greater glory of God and not for individual gain or pleasure.  In an age of so much open hostility to religion, it is delightful to experience your courage and your willingness to stand up and be counted for the cause.  I congratulate you and rejoice with you in all you do.

I want to pay tribute this evening to the excellent work done by local Councils of Knights of St Columbanus in various parts of the diocese and elsewhere.  For example

•    I am thinking of the contribution which you make to the celebration of the Feast of St Oliver Plunkett each year in Drogheda. 
•    I am thinking of the part that Brother Knights played in the visit of the Relics of the Little Flower last May to Ely House.
•    Next April, to honour the Year of the Priest – relics of the Cure of Ars – St Jean Marie Vianney will be brought to Ireland and to Armagh.  My hope is that you will, once again, be willing to help out with the organisation of that event.
•    I salute Council 9 for their Lenten Series of talks in Portadown last February.

Earlier this week the priests of Armagh gathered for their Annual Assembly in Bundoran.  In a review of his 51 years as a priest of this diocese, Father Bobby McKenna of Camlough, identified the challenge of Family Faith Formation as one of the greatest facing us today.  So initiatives like Lenten talks or Life in the Spirit Seminars, are most timely and welcome.

Speaking of the Year of Vocation, I must compliment you on your initiative in extending Christmas greetings to all in ordained ministry in December of last year.  That was a very inspired gesture which was very much appreciated.

Of course I am well aware that most of your work goes on unheralded, unpublished and unrecognised.  I am sure that is the way you would want it, but God sees it.  Perhaps we could honour one particular Brother Knight here tonight, David O’Neill – who joined the Order in 1970. 

Over the last 39 years Brother David has been outstanding in his work for the unemployed; for young people through the Catholic Boy Scouts and Girl Guides and for the older young people of the parish through training centres.  We salute his part in helping to set up PACE – Protestant and Catholic Encounter – a cross-community project which is still going strong and which has been an inspiration to other community groups across the country.  He has played an important part also in the Craigavon Catholic Development Society.  We think also of his initiative in Radio Housebound, a CB backed initiative broadcasting of the Church Service to the housebound, despite opposition.

His latest mission in life is setting up ‘Good Morning Lurgan’, providing valuable contact with the housebound in the parish and surrounding areas.   We wish him well as he receives the Medal of St. Patrick.

In honouring Brother David we are, in a sense, honouring the Order as a whole and we are acknowledging the huge amount of invaluable work that goes on to imbue our society with the values of Christ.

You are, I know, well aware of how much the family, based on marriage, means to our society.  In every culture there exists a certain sense of the dignity of the marriage union.  This dignity must be respected and protected.  It must be safe-guarded against any attempt to undermine it.  You will be aware, I think, of the various efforts undermine marriage and I hope you will play your part in resisting them.

I am delighted to tell you that spirit of St Columbanus is alive and well in the world. I am sure you all rejoiced at the release of that valiant Columban missionary – Father Michael Sinnott.  When I rang Dalgan Park the other night to share my joy with the Columbans there, I was speaking to Father Peter O’Neill of Donaghmore and, of course, they were all thrilled.  Thank you for the prayers for his release.

This very evening, as I was preparing to come here, I got a telephone call from the town of San Colombano al Lambro.  As the name indicates, this town named after St Columbanus and is a town in Northern Italy.  The caller was one Mauro Steffenini.  Now Mauro is, without doubt the most dedicated follower of St Columbanus that I know with all due respect to the Knights of St Columbanus, he is out on his own.  He is leading a campaign to have St Columbanus declared ‘Patron of Europe’.  He also organises, each year, singlehandedly, Columbanus Day.  It takes place at the end of June or beginning of July in a different town each year, sometimes in Italy, sometimes in Switzerland, sometimes in Germany, sometimes in France.  Next year it is coming to Ireland because his group, from his town, are coming on the Thursday and going away on the Tuesday or Wednesday and they will be accompanied by their bishop.  Some of you have already been involved in the preliminary preparations but, hopefully, it will be a big event on the weekend of 26, 27 of June, located here in Armagh and also in Bangor.  I congratulate you.  so, as we salute the achievements of the past – I wish you and the Order well for the future.

To restore all things in Christ is a most noble ideal indeed.  To permeate our society with the values of Jesus Christ.   this is God’s plan for the world and I urge you to continue to do your best to bring it about.