Christ is our peace
On Good Friday afternoon a group of young people carried a large cross up the centre aisle of Saint Patrick’s Cathedral in Armagh. I was conscious that their procession was taking place on the 25th anniversary of the Belfast/Good Friday Agreement. These young people were not even born in 1998. They have no recollection of the terrible violence which brought so much destruction, bloodshed, grief and trauma within our communities. And thank God for that.
This Easter I thank God also for the lives and livelihoods that have been saved since then, and for the architects of the Agreement who took such risks for peace, making political compromises to secure a better future for us all. Many of them – including John Hume, David Trimble, Martin McGuinness, David Ervine, Mo Mowlam, Seamus Mallon – have gone to their rest.
I attended the anniversary event in the Assembly buildings at Stormont earlier on Friday. I had mixed emotions during that moving, but hope-filled ceremony. On the one hand, on behalf of the thousands of people who were killed or injured during the ‘Troubles’, I am grateful that hostilities were largely ended in 1998 and the lethal bombs and bullets were removed from politics on this island. On the other hand, on behalf of our children and grandchildren, I am saddened that we remain a people divided, separated by distrust, sectarianism, and by the continued threatening presence of paramilitaries. We seem to be unable to agree to govern ourselves in a normal manner for any reasonable length of time.
We must all share responsibility that the Agreement’s vision of a peaceful and reconciled society has not yet been accomplished. We have not found a way of healing the awful open wounds of the past or sustaining positive relationships within, and between these islands.
On this Easter weekend I am conscious of what Saint Paul writes about our crucified and risen Saviour (Col 1:15-20):
‘All things are to be reconciled, through Him and in Him – everything in heaven and everything on Earth, when He made peace by His death on the cross.’
Christ is our peace. The late Pope Benedict XVI once pointed out that “Christ does not conquer through the sword, but through the Cross. He wins by conquering hatred. He wins through the force of his greater love. The Cross of Christ expresses His “no” to violence.”
The work of reconciliation is compulsory for Christians. Reconciliation was not an optional extra in the Gospel message and teaching of Jesus: it was a core value. To leave unchallenged the existence of sectarianism, bigotry, hatred and violence between Christians, is a grave scandal. The cross and resurrection which are at the core of the Easter message, confront us to go beyond ourselves to the other, and to make sacrifices for peace, harmony, forgiveness, and healing.
That is why, during these days, I ask you to join with me in prayer that the 25th anniversary of the Belfast/Good Friday Agreement might be a catalyst for greater engagement by all of us in the unfinished work of peace, healing and reconciliation.
Happy Easter to you and your families.