17 MARCH, 2003

· Calls on participants in the peace process to share the qualities of St Patrick – sacrifice, belief and persistence.
· “Winning without winners – only a peace between equals can last”.
· “Once swords are hammered into ploughshares we can begin the tillage – the most difficult task of all , the management of everyday life and the cultivation of a fair, equal and just society”
· We pray that even at this late stage war in Iraq may be averted. May talk of war not become a self-fulfilling prophecy, an irreversible and irrevocable dynamic.

On this, the Feast day of our National Patron, I extend warm personal greetings and good wishes to Irish people everywhere. Whether at home or abroad, I wish all of you a very happy, joyful and faith-filled St Patrick’s Day and I pray God’s grace and blessings upon you and your families and loved ones.

On this day of celebration, it is interesting to note how much St Patrick is interwoven into Irish society. His symbol, the shamrock, adorns our aeroplanes, tourist brochures, Irish-made goods, and the jerseys of some sporting teams.

Today, we all recall how St Patrick used the shamrock to illustrate the mystery of the Holy Trinity. I believe that the life of St Patrick illustrates a trinity of virtues – those of sacrifice, belief and persistence. He left behind his family and sacrificed his home life to be with us. His belief and faith helped him endure here. His persistence ensured that today, over fifteen hundred years later, we continue to share in that very same belief.

On this day, more than any other, we are reminded of the wider Irish community around the world. Over the last few centuries, their story has been that of St Patrick – the sacrifice of exile, the belief which moulded their distinct identity, and the persistence which allowed them to prosper down the generations. The parades and celebrations we see all around the world today are the fruits of the Patrick virtues.


Amidst today’s festivities, it is regretful that a final resolution to recent difficulties in the peace process in our country, has not yet been reached. Since the signing of the Belfast Agreement on Good Friday 1998, great gains have been made and we continue to move, whatever the pace, irrevocably in the right direction. A lengthy peace process is preferable to the long war! I hope that, at this critical juncture in the peace talks, Irish people around the world will join me in wishing the virtues of St Patrick – namely, sacrifice, belief and persistence – on all the participants in our peace process. I urge everyone over the coming days and weeks to pray earnestly for a successful outcome to our present difficulties and for the full flowering of peace on all who call Ireland their home.

We are in the middle of Lent, a time of personal sacrifice, a time to remember the sacrifice Jesus made for all of us. Equally, the forging of peace requires sacrifice on all sides – it involves winning without winners.
Many global commentators, in another context, are fond of citing the League of Nations as an example of failure in peacemaking. The principal reason for the League’s failure was that the participants in the peace process after the First World War ignored the wise advice of the League’s founder, US President Woodrow Wilson – incidentally a man with Northern Irish roots. Wilson warned that a successful peace “must be a peace without victory. Only a peace between equals can last”.

Let us hope that the participants in our own peace process can avoid the temptation to look for short term advantage and are willing to make the compromises and sacrifices that are necessary from all sides to create a permanent peace.

Sadly, the current talks seem stalled on the question of sanctions and disciplinary measures. The issues of policing, decommissioning and demilitarisation may no longer be the central difficulty. In other words, the present stumbling block may not be the tangible – guns or watchtowers – but rather the intangible. The current obstacle reflects a lack of belief – a lack of faith in the future and trust in each other.

Given the sad history of Northern Ireland, this is understandable. Unfortunately trust and respect for each other cannot be manufactured or legislated for. Nevertheless, just as St Patrick’s faith sustained him far from home, I would urge all those participating in the talks to have faith in their adversaries and to trust in whatever agreement is reached.

Peace is not simply the absence of war; that is too narrow a definition. Whenever I think about “peace”, I am reminded of Isaiah’s vision for peace: “The peoples will hammer their swords into ploughshares, their spears into sickles” (cf Is. 2: 4). Like many images from scripture, it contains a deeper truth. With the ploughshares and sickles comes the burden of tillage. Peace is not simply the absence of war but involves the most difficult task of all – the management of everyday life and the cultivation of a fair, equal and just society. Peace is the result of what is experienced when people live in right relationship with each other.
While the talks were taking place in Hillsborough at the beginning of this month, the Director of Childcare in Northern Ireland announced that a third of children living in the North are living in poverty. These are Catholic and Protestant children. When it comes to educational disadvantage, poor housing and ill health, there is no sectarian divide. Let us all redouble our efforts for peace.

To address the basic needs of their constituents, it is important that all participants in the peace process persist in reaching agreement. Resolving the current impasse will take perseverance. To return to the biblical image of “hammering swords into ploughshares”, the swords can be broken, the ploughshares can be built and the deeds to the field are in their hands.


It would be wrong, on St Patrick’s Day, 2003, if we were to concentrate only on Ireland and the Irish. We are all God’s children, whether American or Iraqi, Muslim or Christian, white or dark. Today we think in a special way of the international community and especially of Iraq, where Patrick is not well known. We pray that even at this late stage, war may be averted. We pray that talk of war may not become a self-fulfilling prophecy, an irreversible and irrevocable dynamic. We pray for those who have to make very serious and far-reaching decisions at this time. We recall those on the frontline- civilian and non-civilian, alike. May peace and justice for all in our world become a reality in our time, and in the meantime may this hoped-for reality be actively pursued.

On this St Patrick’s Day, I urge people everywhere, with and without Irish ancestry, to work without ceasing for that justice which brings true and lasting peace. “Happy the peacemakers, they shall be called the sons and daughters of God” (cf Mt. 5: 9).
Beannachtaí na Féile Pádraig oraibh go léir.