St Malachy’s Church, Armagh, 14 September 2001, 7.30 p.m.


Last Tuesday was a dark day in the history of the world. On that day the forces of evil launched a ferocious attack. It was an attack not only on the innocent passengers and crew of the four airliners concerned, not only on the men and women going about their business and doing their work in the World Trade Centre and the Pentagon, but an attack on the dignity of every human person on the planet.


Today the Church celebrates the Triumph of the Cross. The Cross is, of course, the Cross of Jesus Christ on which the darkness of sin was scattered once and for all and the light of life was restored. Tonight we are celebrating the fact that even if, at times, the forces of darkness appear to have the upper hand those who believe in God know that evil and death do not have the final say. By dying on the Cross for love of us Jesus has destroyed death. By rising from the dead he has given us all hope of life after death. At times like this Christian faith in the death and resurrection of Christ is a source of immense strength and courage.


Our first thoughts tonight are with those who have died and with their families. We think of the heroic Fire Fighters and Police Officers who met their death as they tried valiantly to save the lives of others. They are all innocent victims of savage brutality and fanatical hatred. We ask Almighty God to receive into His rest all who perished in these atrocities.

Those injured, traumatised and shocked by these absurd actions are very much in our prayers at this time. We offer them the sympathy and support of our concern and good wishes. We ask God to give them complete healing, consolation and peace of mind.

We think especially of those many families waiting in quiet desperation, yet hoping against hope, for good news of a missing loved-one. May Mary who waited for three days for news of her missing Son pray for them tonight.


Here in Northern Ireland we have had many dark days, many such innocent victims, many such hours of suffering over the past thirty years. Yes, the scale has been different, but the horror was then, and is now, the same. It is the horror that we experience when we realise that human lives are being ruthlessly destroyed and wiped off the face of the earth by the actions of fellow human beings. We too have experienced the horror that follows from carnage and destruction – whether that carnage takes place in Omagh or Oklahoma, the horror remains the same. We too have looked on in disbelief that any human being could ever be so heartless as to inflict such brutality on another member of the human race.


However, events of recent years have led us to hope for the dawn of a more peaceful era. That new dawn of hope may never break into the bright day of peace unless we can learn some lessons from this awful atrocity. Essentially these savage acts were carried out by people who had no respect for human life, neither for their own life, nor for the life of their innocent victims. We are all members of the same human race, no matter what the colour of our skin or the nation of our origin. Each one of us is an individual person of precious worth. Each one of us is made in the image and likeness of God, worthy of respect for our own sake.

For every human life, no matter how apparently insignificant, has a greatness and a value that is beyond description. Every human person is called to share in the very life of God. Life on earth is something sacred. Life is entrusted to each one of us to be preserved with a sense of responsibility and to be respected in ourselves and in each other with a sense of dignity. So, every threat to human life and dignity poisons human society and supremely dishonours the creator. Whatever is opposed to life itself, such as any type of murder; whatever violates the integrity of the human person, such as pipe-bomb attacks or punishment beatings; whatever insults human dignity, such as arbitrary imprisonment and banishment; all of this, without exception, is deeply shameful.


Another lesson we draw is that the only real basis for a genuine peace is respect and justice. Violence solves nothing as we have learned only too painfully here in Northern Ireland. Violence only begets violence and sows the seeds of future hatred and conflict. At this time we pray especially for the leaders of nations that they will not be swayed by hatred and by the spirit of vengeance. May they rather continue to have faith in the power of good to conquer evil, and remain steadfast in their commitment to the construction of a better world rather than the destruction of their enemies.


Jesus said, “it is in losing life that we find it”. This was the ideal that governed his own lifetime of service. It reached its highest manifestation in his dying and in his rising from the dead. Some of you will have heard accounts of how the crowd rushing out of the World Trade Centre met heroic firemen heading into the building, never to return. May the example of their courage inspire all of us. May their willingness to sacrifice their lives, make us more prepared to make sacrifices for the sake of others.


The feast of the Triumph of the Holy Cross celebrates our belief that God loved the world so much that He sent His only son into the world. Jesus came not to condemn the world but that through him the world might be saved and have eternal life. Jesus saved the world by dying, an innocent victim, nailed to a cross on Calvary. It was a death that was savage, brutal and totally unjust. It was a death that revealed the extent of God’s love for each one of us. It was a death that proved to be the doorway to everlasting life.

In every Mass the saving of the world achieved once and for all on Calvary, through the death of Jesus, is renewed and made fruitful. In this Mass we present to the Lord of Life all those brothers and sisters who have met death anywhere on this earth in the folly of violence. And, as we do so, we ask that they find, in the peace of the Lord, sure joy and everlasting happiness. We pray that their deaths may not be in vain but may herald new times of harmony and co-operation among peoples of the world.

May they spur us all to work tirelessly and courageously for the healing of broken hearts and the reconciling of differences, no matter how deep or how difficult to resolve those differences may appear to be. May this time of darkness give way to a bright dawn of greater understanding, harmony and co-operation among the nations of the world.