At this shrine, dedicated to St. Oliver Plunkett, Apostle of Peace and Reconciliation, we come to pray at this critical time that a just and fair basis can be found, and accepted, for a new and lasting partnership between the two traditions on this island. We pray, in a special way, for those political leaders who are striving to arrive at and bring about a shared vision of peace and concord. Our hope is that by continuing to work together they will reach agreement, resolve the remaining outstanding difficulties, and lead all of us into a new era, an era of peace and hope for everybody.

For this to happen certain fears have to be overcome. Greater trust has to be built. Some fear that what is on offer is not the accommodation between the two sides, which it claims to be, but rather a victory by stealth for one side to the detriment of the other side’s interest. Many are afraid that, despite being so close, all could still be lost. All of those fears must be addressed and dispelled.

What is needed is a safe and secure environment where the aspirations and visions of both cultures can be respected, valued, and find appropriate expression. There can be no exclusion of the cultural expression of either side.

Each one of us is called to be leader for peace at this time. There will be many ways by which we can all help. Those who have prayed and continue to pray, lend their energy to the search for a lasting and just solution. We must all look for opportunities to encourage those whose trust and courage falter.

We are entering a time of year when tensions run particularly high. It is not a time which is conducive to calm reflection and objective assessment. I appeal to all with power to do so, to use that power to ensure that the coming week is peaceful. May God be with those who counsel calm and restraint.

During the past week a Novena of Prayer took place in the parish of Portadown in preparation for today’s feast, to ask the help of St. Oliver Plunkett. People there are acutely aware of the damage, which this conflict is causing, particularly in their community. They know the negative impact it is having on everybody, especially on the dreams and hopes of the young people.

The issue of the impasse at Drumcree is a mighty challenge. But overcoming challenges is the essence of the human spirit. Resolving the issues and tensions generated by Drumcree would, I believe, be a source of enormous hope for all. The issue can be resolved because the will is there, but so also are the fears. A resolution could be reached provided both sides commit themselves to working constructively together to improve community relations in Portadown, to understand each other’s position, and to reach accommodation on the future of parades. The impasse could be resolved if both sides were to approach those talks in a spirit of good faith, mutual respect and generous acceptance of cultural diversity.
Mighty challenges need mighty solutions. Gathered here at the shrine of someone who faced the same mighty challenges in his day, let us invoke the help of St. Oliver Plunkett to ensure that this historic opportunity for peace may not be missed.

May God grant that the last year of this millennium may also be the last year of this painful and damaging conflict.