“You are the salt of the earth” Jesus said to his disciples through the voice of His Church. He says the same to you and to me in today’s Gospel.  

I recently realised that blood, sweat and tears all contain salt.  Jesus shed all three in the course of his life on earth.  
1.    He shed sweat as he tramped up and down the roads of Palestine – teaching and healing and bringing the compassionate love of his Father to all who were willing to receive it.  
2.    He shed tears over Jerusalem – the capital city of his beloved homeland – because its citizens, through their hardness of heart, refused to believe in him.  They closed their minds and their hearts to the love that he was offering to them.  So they lost a glorious opportunity to share in his victory over Satan and over sin.  They missed the boat!
3.    Finally Jesus shed his blood on Calvary as he hung dying on the cross – for love of us.  There is no greater love than this – he had said – than that someone should give his life for his friends.

I think that this Gospel is particularly appropriate today.  You gather here this morning as the ruling body of an Association that is dedicated to the promotion of Gaelic games and culture and language and pastimes.  That promotion is motivated by love – love of the Association; love of sport but, above all, by love of people.  
You gather at a critical moment in the history of this country, both north and south.  An uair roimh noin is minic sin an uair is dorcaí.  The darkest hour is just before the dawn and, in many ways, this could be the summation of your past year as your Secretary, Danny Murphy, tells us of in his Annual Report.  We have lived through difficult times and the apparent loss in confidence of our people is a serious cause for concern.

The causes of those difficulties have been well and truly analysed over recent times and there is no need to me to revisit them.  It is enough to say that the present represents critically important moments and provides opportunities – opportunities to determine how the grave economic and social problems are to be confronted and resolved.  A key question has to be:  What is the vision for the Irish society of the future?  What are the values?

I believe that the Gaelic Athletic Association has a vital part to play.  Underlying the unsustainable boom that led to the economic crisis was a set of value that represents the direct opposite of what this Association is built upon.  
The boom was built on individualism – your Association is built on teamwork.  The boom was founded mainly on self-interest.  The GAA depends, to a great extent, on self-sacrifice.  The boom emphasised what one acquired and had and owned. Your tradition chooses to emphasise what you are and what you do.  

Deep down I think the Association has always believed that it is more important to be faithful to core values and beliefs such as integrity and respect, social concern and responsibility rather than be successful.

These, and related values, including respect for the worth of every individual, the right of every person to a share of the world’s resources, and the priority of the needs of those in greatest want above the demands of the more powerful, must form the basis of the way forward to a more secure and fair future.  I believe that such values are shared by all true GAA people.

However, stating those values is, in itself, of little consequence if there is not a determination to take decisions to give effect to such values.  The common good does not just happen – as Pope John Paul once wrote – ‘What is needed is a firm persevering determination to commit oneself to the common good; that is to say to the good of all and of each individual, because we are all really responsible for all’.  While this wont, hopefully, require a shedding of blood, it probably will require a shedding of sweat and sometimes of tears – and consequently, a lost of salt.

A rather quick glance through the magnificent Report to this Convention will show the many and varied ways in which the Association is already showing its social concern and exercising social responsibility.  

I applaud your decision to adopt a policy of being anti-sectarian and anti-racist.  This is most important at the present time in the context of job losses – where racists could easily exploit fears and foment hatred and distrust of people from other countries.
Did I see mention of a campaign against drink, drugs and sausage rolls?  It emphasises the importance of healthy life-styles.  It shows a keen realization that health is something good which each of us has a responsibility to protect and promote.  That is, first and foremost, the personal responsibility of each one of us.  What an amount of the public purse would be saved if this were to happen.  
I was delighted to read in one of the education reports the reminder that what happens on the sidelines and in the dressing room is really a extension of the class hall.  There should be a consistency and the core values of integrity and respect should apply right across the board.

As I reflected, in preparation for this Mass, I thanked God for all that the GAA has meant in my life – for the enjoyment – the friendship – the camaraderie – the self-discipline involved in playing and training, in selecting and administration.  

You are bearers and custodians of a proud and glorious and great tradition – not only essentially of victories won but of volunteering and generosity and of service which you inspire to the benefit of the club and community.  This was typified for me recently at the opening of the magnificent newly refurbished Athletic Grounds here in Armagh – where so many stewards gave of their time for hours, to do jobs like parking, far away from the limelight and the glory.

More austere times are on the way for many people.  The fact that we are all really responsible for all should inspire us to do our best to ensure that austerity comes to those best able to cope and avoids those least able to cope.  Austere times do not necessarily mean sad times – they can be fun and sport times.  They can also be times when volunteers and voluntary organisations really come into their own.  I would appeal to you to find ways of ensuring that access to the Association and its facilities remains open to all classes of society.  This will take courage and imagination of which the GAA has plenty.  It always prided itself on catering for all strata of society – rich and poor.  I hope that this situation will continue and that the needs of those suffering most will be taken into consideration.

I ask you to cast your attention to the poorest areas of our parishes and try and devise schemes to ensure that children, who want to play Gaelic games, will be given the opportunity to do so.  In a fragile situation, such an initiative could prove vital to the future peace and well-being of our society.  

The International Eucharistic Congress will take place in Dublin in June of next year – 2012.  It is hoped that the Final Mass will be celebrated in Croke Park.  Meanwhile the preparations are going ahead.  On 17 March this year, a Eucharistic Congress bell will be blessed in Dublin and brought that evening – to begin a tour of this country and indeed every parish in Ireland.  The idea is to heighten awareness of the Congress.  I hope that you will play your part in your local parishes in welcoming that bell and help it to achieve its purpose.

I pray that the Holy Spirit will give you wisdom today so that you make good decisions.  I believe that in the designs of the God who plans all our lives that the links between the Catholic Church and the Gaelic Athletic Association did not come about by chance.  Those links for example bring us the excellent tradition of offering Mass for the happy repose of deceased members of the Association.  

Finally, I draw your attention to this magnificent Cathedral of St. Patrick.  That land was acquired from the Earl of Dartry – the Dawson family, shortly before the Great Famine.  The work and plans had to be suspended for obvious reasons during the famine.  Archbishop Crolly himself – the originator of the idea fell victim.  But it was resumed in the 1850s and went on through the 1860s and was completed in the 1870s approximately ten years before the foundation of the Gaelic Athletic Association.  It was all done in an era when the mighty cranes and JCBs and modern means simply did not exist.  It represents the triumph of the human spirit, inspired by great religious faith.
Let this Cathedral be an inspiration to all of us.  It was built in the aftermath of Ireland’s darkest hour – the Great Famine.  It was built because it appeals to the deeper and noblest desires of the human heart – to give praise where praise is due – to the Creator and Lord of Heaven and Earth.  It was built by our ancestors – because they had faith and confidence that the Spirit, who inspired such marvellous plans, would bring them to completion – faith and confidence in themselves and in each other and in their God.

Finally, it was built by strong and courageous workers who climbed ladders, step by step, and pulled pulleys and built steeples – for the glory of God and the convenience of people.  Love of God – love of homeland – love of neighbours – are all closely interlinked.  May your meeting today give you the wisdom to see and the courage to continue to be salt of the earth and a light to the world.  


Cuiri Failte ó croí roinh gach ensre anseo innus.

I welcome you all to St. Patrick’s Cathedral this morning.  I commend you on the wonderful custom of beginning your Chom dhal Blianluil with a Mass for deceased members of the Association.  The Secretary, Danny Murphy, has kindly listed some of the greats who have gone during the last year.  

Jack Bratton; Ollie O’Rourke, Patsy O’Hagan, Seán Kennedy of Down, Peter and Paddy Harte and Michaela Harte-McAreavey of Tyrone.  We remember them all with affection, offer sympathy to al who mourn their passing and pray God to give them eternal rest.

I hope your discussions will be positive and fruitful.  I congratulate you and give thanks for your success and great work for the community.

I am pleased that you are here in a year when Aogán – my fellow County man is at the helm – here in Ulster.  We are very proud of him in Cavan.