I welcome you all to Armagh today. I thank you for coming. I appreciate very much the words and expressions of welcome which I have just received. I imagine that many of us can recall a particular occasion when a word of welcome made all the difference.

I remember the first time I left Ireland. It was this time of year, thirty six years ago. I flew to Rome, it took all day. It was a very long day. I was standing in the airport terminal anxiously awaiting my luggage when a tal1 man, with a soft voice, said: “Would your name happen to be Brady?” Then I knew I was safe.

So when Bishop Clifford spoke on behalf of the priests and people of Armagh just now his words meant a lot to me. The greetings of Archbishop Eames, Reverend Best and Dr. Ross are greatly valued. I look forward to working with all of you.

The other people who greeted me represent very important organisations and bodies in the life of the diocese. I thank all of you for your pledge of friendship and support. When Jesus sent the twelve out to preach he told them: “Look for someone who is willing to welcome you”. I am delighted to have found so many to welcome me.

So I gladly ask the Lord to bless all you who have welcomed me here today and your communities and I say: “Peace be with you”.

Today I want to thank Cardinal Daly. Your Eminence I thank you for so much kindness and understanding. For your example and leadership. Your wise advice and counsel. I wish you continued health and blessings for the years ahead.

Today, on the Feast of St. Malachy, a native of this city, we think of the late Cardinal Ó Fiaich. This would have been his seventy-third birthday. May he rest in peace.

These twelve Jesus sent out. He gave them power to teach in his name. Today Jesus continues to send out people to teach in his name. I am deeply aware that today I join an illustrious line of teachers sent to Armagh. It began with Patrick and includes Malachy and Oliver Plunkett.

Jesus gave his disciples precise instructions they were to go to the lost sheep of the house of Israel. Who were these lost sheep? They were people who were cut off from their community because they were unable to fulfil the demands of the law. People for example who could not pay their debts. Jesus offered the lost sheep a way back.

Today there are many lost sheep. There are people who are cut off from society for any number of reasons. There are people who are cut off because of poverty. There are people who have lost their way. There are people who have turned their back. It is our job to help them find their way back.

Before we start thinking of others however we could examine our own lives to see are we the lost sheep. How are our relationships? My relationship with God for example?. Am I too proud to listen? Too angry to believe? Too lazy to pray? My relationship with my family can suffer if I am too busy to notice and too stressed to help. My relationship with my neighbour can be damaged if I become trapped into my prejudices and fears. So, all of us, at some stage, are lost sheep.

How can the lost sheep be found? In the words of Jesus “the kingdom of heaven is near”. In other words, no matter what happens God is near to us. God loves us. Whoever knows that the great commandment is to love God and neighbour, that person is close to God.

So relationships come into it. It is not just a question of me and God alone. The reign of God demands that we look beyond ourselves and that we think of others, especially those less well off than ourselves. They are not to be considered a burden, they are our brothers and sisters.

The reign of God is an earthly reign. There is a here and now dimension to it. The reign of God is concerned with the establishment of justice and peace. That responsibility is a personal one. It belongs to each one of us. It cannot be off-loaded onto somebody else. And the great thing is that this Good News is meant for all of us. “Go make disciples of all nations”. All are invited to the feast, nobody is excluded. That gives hope to us all.

Jesus saw clearly that God’s reign would meet with obstacles. So he gave his disciples power to drive out the demons. That is to overcome the obstacles which are to be met and confronted.
One of the great obstacles is the absence of reconciliation. The refusal to repent of our sins. The refusal to get forgiveness or to ask for or to receive forgiveness. It is not a problem that is peculiar to Ireland of course.

Political walls that divided Europe have been torn down. However in hearts and heads the Iron Curtain has far from disappeared. For this reason the Christian Churches of Europe have decided to join forces to promote reconciliation. They have chosen as the theme of the second European Ecumenical Assembly: ‘Reconciliation – Gift of God, Source of New Life’.

This European Ecumenical Assembly is only the second in history. It unites all the Christian Churches of all the countries of Europe. It will take place next year in June in Austria. Europe is calling out for reconciliation. Reconciliation between people and God, after so much suffering. Reconciliation between the different Churches after so much conflict. Reconciliation of European people among themselves, after so much war. So our situation is not unique but it is urgent.

The most urgent religious task of our day is the search for peace and reconciliation. We remember the words of Jesus about leaving gifts before altars and going off to seek reconciliation with an enemy. The offering can wait, reconciliation cannot.

We have here a clear line of what comes first for Jesus. Reconciliation is not something to be put on a long finger. It is not something to be attempted only after a political solution has been found. It is not a task for religious leaders alone. It belongs to all men and women of goodwill.

Reconciliation is already a gift for all of us. That gift has been won for us by Jesus Christ. It follows therefore that it can already be a source of new life for us. It is up to us to try to envisage what that new life might be and how to work towards it.

This Ecumenical Assembly, sponsored by all the Churches seems to me to be a providential call. It calls all of us to make reconciliation a more manifest reality in our lives between now and June 1997. It is God’s way of saying: ‘the reign of God is very near, repent and believe the Good News’.

Once we accept the fact that God loves us, then we become more secure in our own identity and more sure of our worth in the sight of God. We get the confidence to reach out to other people. Jesus told the twelve: “Provide yourselves with no gold or silver not even with a few coppers for your purses. With no haversack for the journey or spare tunic or footwear or a staff”. Those who bring the Good News should be given what they need, precisely because of who they are. They are to put their trust in the message, in the one who sent them.

Trust is also important in the quest for peace. A minimum degree of trust is the first step. The task is to rebuild trust on all sides. It will be a slow process. It will involve understanding the feelings of others. It will mean seeing the point of view of the other person and treating it with respect.

Our sense of identity is very important to all of us. We are all children of a loving and good God. By baptism we all become sisters and brothers of Jesus Christ. We love and respect the Word of God. These are the piers of the bridge which can unite us. They are also part of our identity.

The Lord says “I alone know the plans I have for you. Plans to bring you prosperity and not disaster. Plans to bring about the future you hope for”. Plans to bring you prosperity and not disaster, what fantastic promises. Our hopes and God’s plans coincide. Only our sins can frustrate those plans. God’s plans are our hopes but God’s ways are not always our ways. To carry out those plans God may need more help from us than we were thinking of offering. Those words are God’s message. They are not some human thinking. God’s message is a living power among you who believe it. It is power that will lead to new forms of life. It will be at once a gift of God and source of new life.

May St. Malachy, great reformer that he was in his day, gain for us the wisdom to know the way God’s message beckons us and give us the strength to travel that way no matter what the cost.
May Mary, Mother of the Prince of Peace, intercede for the peacemakers and help them build up harmony. May we join with all true peace-makers in praying for peace and working to achieve it.