1 JANUARY 1998 – 11.00 A.M.

Fifty years ago the United Nations produced its Declaration of Human Rights. The Second World War had just ended. During that war certain peoples had seen even their right to exist denied. The United Nations were anxious to ensure that this would never happen again. They wanted to find the basis for a just and lasting peace. They found it in the recognition of the dignity and rights of human beings.

From Bethlehem to Armagh
Ever since the year 1957 a lighted lamp has been brought from the place of the birth of Christ in Bethlehem to all the churches in Austria. That burning flame was, and is, a symbol of their desire for world peace. This year the lamp has been brought via the European Parliament to Armagh. In a few moments it will be presented here in the Offertory Procession. We welcome it with great joy. It reminds us that what the United Nations declared fifty years ago, Jesus had already revealed almost two thousand years ago.

When he became one of us Jesus united himself in some way with every human being. He came on earth to reveal the boundless love of God. But Jesus also showed us the unique value of every human person. The Church acknowledges this value and celebrates it once again at this feast of Christmas. It proclaims the sacred value of human life from its beginning until its end. The lamp brought to us from Bethlehem reminds us of the words of Jesus to his friends: “My peace I give you”. Ever since those words were spoken they have provided tremendous inspiration for people to go out and work for justice, the kind of justice which overcomes division and provides the only solid foundation for peace.

Recently I watched a film about the work of the Irish for the street children of Calcutta. There was this marvelous voluntary worker named Edith Wilkins who looked after fifteen children single-handed. When she was asked why, “it is the kids’ right” she said, “to be fed and sheltered and clothed and educated”. Another Irish girl, Therese Hennessey, spoke of her work for the sick and the dying in Calcutta. She and her colleagues try to ensure that these poor people die with dignity. Human dignity and human rights are at the centre of their work.

Justice Goes Hand in Hand with Peace
“Justice goes hand in hand with peace”, Pope John Paul tells us in his message for this World Day of Peace. When one is threatened justice and peace both falter. When justice is offended peace is also placed in jeopardy. For example, the majority of the world’s fifteen million refugees are victims of war. In war, lands and crops are destroyed, people are deprived of their livelihood and security. Money and skills are directed away from social uses and necessary schemes. The cost of one Trident submarine would pay for one year’s schooling for sixteen million children in developing countries. And for the cost of ten fighter aircraft all the infants of the developing world could be immunized against disease. These facts confirm the words of Pope John Paul when he says that “when either peace or justice is threatened both falter”.

Peace for all comes from the justice of each one of us
The human rights of everybody are to be recognised and respected. They are to be protected and promoted. These rights are universal; they belong to one and all. They are also indivisible because social and economics rights are involved and are to be promoted as well as political and cultural rights which must also be recognised, protected and observed.

Peace for all comes from the justice of each one of us. “No-one is excused from the task of such importance”, Pope John Paul tells us in his message for today. “Human beings are equal in dignity. All deserve the same respect and have the same rights and duties”. It is important that we take these fundamentals as the basis for any lasting peace.

The Northern Ireland Situation
All of this is very relevant to our situation here in Northern Ireland. Despite the tragic and terrifying events of recent days, the celebration of the World Day of Peace this year takes place in a climate of somewhat greater hope than in other years. The restoration of the IRA cease-fire last July and the participation of parties representing more than eighty percent of the population in peace talks give hope of progress. There is a growing realisation of the futility of a conflict which has lasted almost thirty years, a conflict which nobody has won and which apparently nobody can lose. The terrible events of recent days are sombre reminders that there really is no alternative to discussion and dialogue. Hopefully these killings are only temporary setbacks on the road to a permanent settlement and a just and fair agreement. Hopes rise that conditions can be agreed to allow a peaceful and just co-existence. These hopes rest on the seeds of dialogue and discussions which are beginning to emerge.

Other Grounds for Hope
The Secretary of State for Northern Ireland has identified four areas which are to be given priority: marching, fair employment, policing and mechanisms for the protection of human rights. A Commission for Racial Equality has been set up. The Government has committed itself to incorporating the European Convention on Human Rights into domestic law through legislation in the form of a Bill of Rights. It has stated that it intends to implement the recommendations of the Hayes Report for an entirely independent system for the investigation of complaints against the Police. The British Government is also sponsoring a review of the effectiveness of fair employment legislation and of government policies. Unfortunately these developments are not seen by all as positive and helpful. There is much fear and apprehension in certain quarters. Every effort must be made to calm people’s fears. Those who try to increase people’s fears at this time bear a heavy responsibility. The fact that human rights issues are being addressed is seen by some as a threat. There are some people who feel that the recognition of the rights of others in some way infringes their rights. The recognition of human dignity threatens no-one. Human rights belong to everyone. The human rights agenda is not a sectarian agenda. In fact their recognition is the bulwark and defence of true peace everywhere.

The shootings of recent days are to be condemned. They have claimed three lives, injured many and raised doubts about the peace process. I urge those involved in the talks not to lose their nerve and to deny the perpetrators of these atrocities their expected prize of the disruption of the peace talks and to press on towards the far more precious prize, the achievement of a fair and lasting settlement.

Indeed the failure to protect human rights lies at the root of another urgent problem; that of refugees. Every twenty-one seconds a refugee is created somewhere in the world. In the last ten years the number of refugees has jumped from eight to fifteen million. As a group of democracies the European Union finds its political and ethical basis in human rights. This includes internationally accepted rights to asylum and the right not to be discriminated against. Pope John Paul has called the tragedy of refugees a wound which reveals the conflicts of the modern world. We are now part of a union of fifteen European states in which there is free movement of people by right. This process is irreversible, even though at times it may give rise to hostile reactions and alarm among some. Today we stand at a cross-roads. We can choose to turn in on ourselves and turn our back on the stranger and in doing so turn our back on our own history and indeed turn our back on the Christian faith. We are now among the richest nations in the world. We could decide to share some of that wealth, resources and opportunities with foreigners, as so many societies in the past did for our people. By doing so we could set an outstanding example of respect for the dignity of people less fortunate than ourselves.

Lack of Respect
Lack of respect for the value of other people is seen in a culture and language of contempt and disparagement. Anything which rubbishes and denigrates those who are different has no part to play in any genuine peace process. A just peace threatens no-one. Talks are the only way to reach such a peace. Talks are the only way to dispel fears. People need to be reassured that their neighbour has exactly the same hopes and fears as they. They hope to live in security, to be on good terms with their neighbours and to enjoy their esteem.

Recent Developments
During these days the thoughts of many turn to those people who lost their lives through violence in 1997. The first was Stephen Restorick, shot dead in Bessbrook last February. The last was Seamus Dillon, shot dead in Dungannon last Saturday. The parents of those two men have been united in grief and heartbreak at the loss of a son. They have also been united in a firm determination to do all in their power to ensure that no-one else will ever die in political violence in Northern Ireland. Each one of us must resolve to do the same. The shootings of recent days are of course, a threat to peace and to the peace talks. Some people have taken the law into their own hands and proceeded to shoot fellow human beings, thereby depriving them of something sacred – their human life. Everyone has the right to have their gift of life respected. Every human community is founded on that right. The political community is no exception.

The hope which the birth of Christ brings us
We urgently need the hope which the birth of Christ brings to us. Jesus comes to give us hope. He comes to give us hope in the midst of sadness and disappointment. He comes to tell us never to despair of the glory to which God calls us. He comes to ensure that we never lose the courage and trust which we need.
Christian hope focuses our attention on our final destiny. We are made to share God’s life in Heaven but we are also made to live in peace and harmony with our neighbour here on earth. Peace is about right relationships. Where violent conflicts have taken place right relationships have been disrupted. The process of healing the bad memories of the past and the giving and receiving of forgiveness are gifts from God. But the task of building the society founded on truth and justice and respect for others, especially the other who is different, that task falls to each one of us. No-one is excused from a task of such importance. The challenge of changing the structures in society that provoked, promoted and sustained violence in the first place, that task belongs to us also.

The heart of the Gospel message is Jesus Christ. He is everyone’s peace and reconciliation. The Spirit of the Risen Christ, the Spirit of hope is at work in the world. Pope John Paul tells us in today’s message that “the Spirit is especially present in the generous activity of all who patiently and perseveringly continue to promote peace and reconciliation between people who were once opponents and enemies”. This time last year there wasn’t much reason to be hopeful. Nevertheless many people did continue to hope and to pray and to work for progress towards peace. Those prayers were answered, their efforts were rewarded.

They were people who remained undaunted in the face of obstacles. They continued to believe that God’s greatest promises can indeed by ours. They continued to hope for what is best with a confidence rooted not in themselves but in God. The hopes and the prayers and the work for peace must continue. Let them continue then in the firm belief that peace for all of us comes from the justice of each one of us. Let each one of us try to be more just in the sight of God, more faithful in the small things and the big things of life and more loving in our service of God and of each other. Let them continue in the firm belief that it is possible to achieve what God’s love plans for each one of us. Plans to bring you prosperity and not disaster, plans to bring you the future you hope for. May 1998, the year in which we celebrate the 850th anniversary of the death of St. Malachy, bring peace and joy, happiness and prosperity, to each one of you and to our land.


1 JANUARY 1998 – 11.00 A.M.

The tragic events of recent days add urgency to our gathering to offer this Mass for peace on this World Day of Peace – the Feast of Mary the Mother of God. We ask her to pray for us that we may in fact be made worthy of the promises of Christ. We ask God to be gracious to us and to bring us His peace. “From the justice of each one comes the peace of all” Pope John Paul tells us in his message today. We are far from being just. We know we are sinners. We need God’s pardon to make us less unjust. We ask pardon for our sins.