We are here today to remember those who have disappeared. We are here to remember all of you who have suffered so much. As we enter Holy Week, we try to unite all our lives and especially our sufferings to the sufferings of Jesus Christ.

This is Palm Sunday. Today we begin Holy Week. Today we begin the solemn celebration of Our Lord’s suffering and death and resurrection. As we listen to the story of Our Lord’s passion, we unite ourselves in our sufferings to him. We have heard the account of how he entered the Holy City in the midst of applause and acclaim and then, on Good Friday the crowd were baying for his blood.

St. Paul once spoke of his desire to fill up what was lacking in the sufferings of Christ. Of course the sufferings of Christ are undoubtedly sufficient to save the world. Yet Christ seems to have left place for our suffering to be united to his. Wherever the innocent suffer the passion of Christ continues today.
We live in a broken, fragile and sinful world. We find our salvation not by turning our backs on the sad difficulties of life. Like Christ, we face the realities and the difficulties which confront us. One such sad difficulty is that of even speaking of those dear members of your families who have disappeared, who have not been found.

We read in today’s Gospel how Joseph of Arimathaen, that brave and good member of the Supreme Council of the Jews, went to Pilate and asked for the body of Jesus. We are told by St. Luke, that he was an upright and virtuous man. He had not consented to what the other members of the Council had planned and carried out. When the dead body of Jesus was handed over, he took it and wrapped it in a shroud and put him in the tomb which was hewn in stone in which no-one had yet been laid.
The women who had come from Galilee, following Jesus, took note of the position of the body. Then they returned and prepared spices and ointments.

It was a question of basic respect and reverence for the body of the crucified Christ. Every human body deserves respect and reverence. We are all made in the image and likeness of God. Our bodies were washed in the waters of baptism. They were anointed with the holy oils. We were fed with the body and blood of Christ. Our sins have been washed away by the blood of Christ. Our bodies became the Temple, the dwelling places, of the Holy Spirit. Both in life and in death, our bodies are sacred – they belong to God. By baptism we were made one body with the dead and risen Christ. No-one can take away that dignity from us. From the risen Christ we are to pass from death to life – eternal life. In soul we are to be cleansed and taken up into heaven with the saints. In body we dead await the blessed hope of Christ’s coming – the Resurrection of the dead.

As we offer this Mass for your dear disappeared, we offer prayers and petitions for them. As we believe that this memorial of Christ’s death and resurrection can bring spiritual happiness to those who have died, so we hope that it will help to offer consolation to you who are living. We pray that someone may have taken note of where they were laid to rest and, like those good women, they may receive the courage to come forward and reveal that information.

Although the consolation of a Christian burial has been denied to your dear departed ones, God who is all-powerful can find other ways of offering you healing and hope and consolation. God, who is the God of life, can certainly welcome them into eternal life.

In St. John’s account of the Passion, which is read on every Good Friday, Jesus holds a discussion with Pilate about his being a king and what sort of king he is. He also talks about truth. “So you are a king then” Pilate asked. Jesus answered: “It is you who say it. Yes, I am a king. I was born for this, to bear witness to the truth and all who are on the side of truth listen to my voice”. Pilate said, “Truth, what is that?” All who are on the side of truth listen to the voice of Christ. We all hunger for the truth, especially in matters that concern ourselves and our family. Today we pray that the Spirit of the Risen Christ may give us the wisdom to know the truth and the courage to proclaim it and to reveal it and to live it in our lives.

I know that it is your very dear wish that the mortal remains of your dearly beloved disappeared relatives, members of your family, should be found and returned to you so that they can be reverently and lovingly laid to rest. We pray earnestly for that intention today. In today’s Gospel we hear the prayer of Jesus which he prayed on the cross for those who had put him to death: “Father forgive them. They do not know what they are doing”. We ask God to give all of us the spirit of true forgiveness, especially in those moments when we find it difficult or impossible to forgive. Not once but twice, in the Garden of Gesthemane, Jesus offered this prayer for his followers: Pray not to be put to the test. Every follower of Christ is put to the test, is tested by temptation at some stage or other. Today we ask the strength to overcome the tests, which come our way. In the Garden of Gesthemane Jesus prayed: “Father if you are willing, take this cup away from me”. He was talking about the cup of suffering – the suffering of his passion and death. Then he went on to pray, “nevertheless, let your will be done, not mine”. Why was it the Father’s will that he should drink the cup of suffering? Suffering onto death, the terrible agony of the crucifixion. I think it was in order that he should pay the penalty for our sins and from the sins of others. He, the sinless one, was made sin, to save us, the guilty. He has paid the penalty, he has repaired the damage of our sins.

When those who were led by Judas came to the garden to arrest him, his followers saw what was happening and said, “Lord shall we use our swords”? In fact, one of them didn’t wait for permission, but struck out at the High Priest’s servant, and cut off his ear. Jesus said, “Leave off that will do”. Touching the ear of the servant, he healed him.

There are two important lessons there. Firstly, I think that the answer to violence, in any shape or form, is not more violence, rather it is patience and goodness and kindness. The second lesson is, that our blessed Saviour, Our Saviour Jesus Christ, is a healing person. He healed the ear of the servant of the High Priest. The High Priest’s servant was not free in what he was doing, he was ordered by the High Priest.
Today we pray that the same healing hand of Christ may touch, not alone our eyes and our ears, but our hearts and heal them. The crowd welcomed Jesus into Jerusalem on Palm Sunday. They praised God for all the miracles they had seen. I suppose we have all seen miracles of consolation and strength, given to us by God. My prayer is that the palm branches which are blessed and are carried home today, may become, for each one of us, a sign of victory. They are the sign of Christ’s victory over death. He is the way, the truth and the life. He has conquered death. Today it is the sign of the victory of patience over violence, and it is a sign of the victory of love over hatred.

At the Last Supper Jesus promised that he would confer a kingdom on all those who stood by him faithfully in his trials. They would eat and drink at his table in his kingdom. The women of Jerusalem mourned and lamented for him. Jesus was concerned that they should also pray and weep for themselves and for their children. You have stood by Jesus faithfully in his trials by your refusal to turn away from God in your trials. I am sure you are often tempted to do so. Like Mary, you too have stood at the foot of the cross of Christ. As you have mourned and lamented for your own relatives, you have also mourned and lamented for Christ. I know that all of this has brought you closer to Jesus and to Mary, his mother. May your attendance here today and your abiding love for your families, draw you ever more closely to Christ and to Mary, who stood at the foot of the cross and watched her son die. May the bonds of love, which unite you, strengthen you now and always.


I welcome you all here today to St. Patrick’s Grammar School, Armagh. A very warm welcome to the members of the families of Jean McConville, Seamus Ruddy, Seamus Wright, Kevin McKee, Gerard Evans, Charlie Armstrong, Danny McElhone, Columba McVeigh, Brendan Megraw, Robert Nairac and John McIlroy. I also welcome the families of John McClory, Eamon Molloy, Brian McKinney and Eugene Simons. We thank God that their bodies have been recovered.

We come together on a day in which, in union with the whole Church, we begin the solemn celebration of Our Lord’s suffering death and resurrection. We come together first of all, to be together and to help each other with the support of our prayers. We turn our hearts and minds to the God of all consolation. We come to unite ourselves to our Saviour, Jesus Christ, who has offered one single sacrifice for sins and then has taken his place forever at the right hand of God. We come to ask the help of a God who never forgets. He says that even though a mother may forget her children, He will never forget them, because He has written their names on the palms of His hands.

We have come to listen to the account of the passion of Our Lord, Jesus Christ so that we may get from it, strength and hope for the future. We pray for those who have disappeared that they may be safe with the Lord in his eternal glory. We pray for all who are engaged in the search for missing victims and for a lasting and genuine peace. We thank God for the work of people engaged in supporting and consoling the bereaved and those traumatised through the troubles in Northern Ireland.