FRIDAY, 27 FEBRUARY, 1998, 10.00am

I have great pleasure in welcoming the distinguished speakers to this International Conference to Armagh. I congratulate the organising committee on their decision to hold this Conference. It is timely and most relevant. I commend their initiative in following through that decision and in assembling such an eminent group of speakers.

We are honoured that our speakers should come from such far-flung lands as Israel and Palestine, South Africa and Sri Lanka. I am confident that their willingness to share their experience and insights with us will prove most valuable and helpful. That there are so many participants here from throughout Ireland and Britain is a cause of great joy.

I compliment and thank the many co-ordinating organisations. This list which includes the Northern Ireland Interfaith Forum, Armagh City and District Partnership, Armagh City and District Council, the Irish School of Ecumenics, the International Inter-Faith Centre, the World Conference on Religion and Peace, Action for Peoples in Conflict, is a very impressive one. We owe them all a deep debt of gratitude.

We gather in St Patrick’s Trian in Armagh. Here St Patrick, our National Apostle, built his first stone church in Ireland, thereby establishing Armagh as his own Episcopal seat, giving Armagh the proud title of the Primatial See of All-Ireland. Patrick was no stranger to conflict. He first came to Ireland as a slave. Europe in St Patrick’s time was the scene of great conflict and crisis. The Roman Empire was crumbling, the Roman Legions were retreating further and further from the outposts of the Empire, the Barbarian invasions were changing the face of the continent. The very existence of society, faith and culture seemed threatened.

Ireland too in the fifth century was not immune from conflict. From the writings of Patrick we know of a Welsh Chieftain called Coroticus and his soldiers who conducted a raid on a community of Christians along the East coast of Ireland on the very day that Patrick had baptised and confirmed them, massacring many and kidnapping others. In Patrick’s letter of castigation to Coroticus he calls him and his soldiers “men of blood, steeping themselves in the blood of innocent fellow Christians”.

So what has changed in Ireland over 1550 years later we might well ask. That there should still be conflict in our country is a cause for deep shame. All of us would like to live in a peaceful and harmonious world. The sad fact is that we do not. Most of us experience some conflict in our lives. This is the reality of the situation. However, our belief is that these situations can change. This belief that situations and people can change is central to our hopes for a lasting peace in Ireland. For that to happen the causes of conflict must be met and addressed and the conditions and climate favourable to change must be created.

The fact is that we have found it difficult to accept others as true equals. We have been slow to fully respect and accept the rights of others to be different from us and to hold other beliefs, to follow other traditions, to possess other identities. A lack of generosity and magnanimity, an unwillingness to make legitimate and much-needed change and sacrifice, a desire to dominate, fear and suspicion, sadly continue to be hallmarks of the conflict in Northern Ireland.

But these enemies of political progress, of peace and reconciliation, must not be allowed to be victorious. All people of good will must now redouble their efforts for peace and by their increased willingness to move and to make sacrifice, by their increased efforts to reach out to those of the different tradition, the enemies of peace shall be confounded.

There are many signs of great hope. Despite the deeply disturbing events of recent weeks, the Troubles seem to draw inexorably to an end. The sense of the futility and counter-productivity of violence seems, as never before, to be strong among our people. The desire for peace and a just and lasting settlement is at this time truly palpable.

The belief that people can change is central to the hopes for a lasting peace in Ireland. People can grow to see the futility of violence and the wisdom of the ways of negotiation and discussion. They can come to know that nationalism, whether it be Irish nationalism or British nationalism, is not the supreme good in life.
We seek forgiveness that in a land with a church practice rate unparalleled in the Western world, there should be such apparent deep-rooted conflict and communal unrest. We pray that the reign of God which is a reign of justice and peace might truly become a greater reality in our time. May we increasingly realise that the only victory which matters is that of the Lord and that we may make our own his words, “in the world you will have distress but have confidence, I have overcome the world”.

I wish this Conference many blessings and great success.