St. Patrick’s Day unites Irish people all over the world. For Patrick has become at once a symbol of Irish history and of Irish heritage. But simply to reduce Patrick to a symbol of that kind, worthy as it may be, without any reference to his own Christian faith distorts the truth and in no way does justice to the real stature of the man.

Amidst the music, parades and merriment, the real focus of the celebration may become lost. 17 March is the anniversary of St. Patrick’s death. We join together today not just to celebrate Irish culture and identity, but also to remember the man who described himself as an ambassador for God and who prayed that it might never happen that he (Patrick) should lose the people which God had won for himself at the end of the earth. Today we honour a man who nurtured and spread Christianity throughout our native land – setting down a strong foundation by building on the solid rock of steadfast faith.

My hope, on this St. Patrick’s day, is that more and more Irish people, who have lost their connection with faith, will rediscover it and rediscover what St. Patrick called: the joy and love of faith.

This St Patrick’s Day I am very much aware that violence has returned to the streets of Northern Ireland. If the awful and tragic events of last week teach us anything, it is that all of us must work unceasingly for peace here on our island. I would urge all citizens to redouble efforts to build a peaceful society. Violence is not the answer. The perpetrators of violence are seeking to destroy the peace we are building. I would ask that all people support the politicians who are working so hard to move away from the dark days of our past, to build a better future on foundations of trust, justice and respect for all.

My prayer for all of us on this St. Patrick’s Day is taken from St. Patrick’s Breastplate:

“Christ be in all hearts thinking about me
Christ be on all tongues telling of me
Christ be the vision in eyes that see me
In ears that hear me
Christ ever be.”