In his message for today, the 52nd World Day of Peace, Pope Francis recalls the words of Jesus to His disciples as He sent them out on mission. Jesus told them, “Whatever house you enter, first say, ‘Peace be to this house!’” At the start of this New Year, Pope Francis makes this greeting his own. The Holy Father wishes that we might find true peace in three ways: peace with ourselves, peace with others, and peace with all creation.

Pope Francis entitles his New Year message: “Good politics is at the service of peace”. “Peace”, he says “is based on respect for each person, whatever his or her background, on respect for the law and the common good, on respect for the environment entrusted to our care and for the richness of the moral tradition inherited from past generations”. “Good politics” respects and promotes fundamental human rights. Those holding political office and political responsibility in any country should therefore “make every effort to protect those who live there and to create the conditions for a worthy and just future”. They should exercise their politics “with basic respect for the life, freedom and dignity of persons”.

Recent circumstances in Ireland, Britain, Europe and the United States have led many people to become disheartened with politics and with politicians. Still, it is important to pray that all politicians will work at the service of peace. Politics is a noble vocation, and those who answer the call to public service often have to make great sacrifices in their personal and family life. We depend on our politicians to protect life and to build peace, to make just laws that enable us, our families, and the wider community to live good and constructive lives. We need them to lead and govern us, to work for the common good, to enable everyone to live in security and hope. In particular, politicians must speak and work for the voiceless, supporting the poor and disadvantaged, the homeless, migrants and the most vulnerable – even though doing so may not always win them popularity or votes.

In addition to praying for our politicians, it is important that people actively contribute to public discourse. People of faith are called to bring to these discussions their conviction that the teaching and Gospel of Jesus Christ have consequences for every aspect of our lives.

Before Christmas I pointed to the danger of increased community polarisation on account of the Brexit debate and the political impasse at Stormont. Ireland’s Church leaders are urging political leaders to make a real difference as we enter 2019 and to help restore a sense of hope. We feel that with ongoing political and economic uncertainty, “many businesses here are fearing for the future, while many families, struggling to make ends meet today, are anxious about what that future might hold”. Added to this, the lack of a functioning devolved government in Northern Ireland concerns us. It “not only drains hope from our society, but also has meant an ever increasing pressure on our schools, our hospitals, our welfare system and many other aspects of society’s infrastructure. As so often happens, it is the vulnerable and the marginalised that suffer most and they should be at the forefront of our thoughts and prayers as we enter into a new year”.

Last September the Church leaders invited political party leaders to meet with us, and we sought to provide a safe space to facilitate open discussion and mutual understanding. We were encouraged by this meeting and we have begun a series of regional meetings, “bringing together local politicians, community and church leaders to talk with one another, to build relationships and again to foster mutual understanding”. We hope that this initiative can help bring at least a glimmer of hope.

On a personal note, I encourage all our politicians in the coming challenging months to beware the temptation to retreat into partisanship. Many of our politicians and their predecessors have played their part in creating a more peaceful and more prosperous society here over the past twenty years. On this World Day of Peace I ask all our public representatives to make a resolution to reject divisive language and actions at all times during 2019. The progress we have made over the past twenty years is fragile and should be handled with care. There can be no going back to the days of violence and death on our streets.

Having just marked the seventieth anniversary of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, it is important to remember that the principle of the inviolability of innocent human life is the most fundamental of all moral principles. It is the basis upon which every human right we enjoy as persons is predicated. This is not only a religious doctrine, but a universal human value, rooted in human nature itself, upon which our very freedom and dignity as a person rests. Freedom of conscience and freedom of religion are also internationally agreed human rights

The right to life is not given or taken away by the law of the land or by any politician. It cannot be relegated beneath the right to individual choice. Despite the legislation for abortion that is taking effect this month in Ireland, it remains gravely morally wrong to deliberately and intentionally take the life of an innocent person, whatever their state or stage of life. To co-operate in such an act, by supporting it directly or indirectly, either as an individual act or as a social policy, shall always be gravely wrong.

Although the Eighth Amendment has been removed from the Constitution of Ireland, it remains no less true that the life of a woman and her unborn baby are equally deserving of love, respect and protection. Any law which suggests otherwise has no moral force. In good conscience it cannot be supported; it has to be resisted and we must continue to call and work diligently for its limitation, amendment and repeal. No one should be forced, against their conscience, to participate in abortion or to refer patients to others for abortion.

As a bishop I have been overwhelmed over the past year by the courage and witness of so many people – including some consistently pro-life politicians – who kept reminding us that in pregnancy we are dealing with TWO human lives. In 2019 I urge everyone – in their families, communities, schools, colleges and workplaces – to sensitively and respectfully present life-saving alternatives to abortion, so that no vulnerable woman in crisis will feel that the only way out for her is to end the life of her unborn child. This life-saving work deserves the full support of our local and national political representatives. I also encourage the development and ongoing formation of pro-life support teams in every pastoral area throughout the country.

Last August Pope Francis, speaking to An Taoiseach and other political and civil representatives gathered in Dublin Castle, said, “True peace is ultimately God’s gift; it flows from a healed and reconciled heart and branches out to embrace the entire world”. Pope Francis explained that true peace requires a spiritual foundation and constant conversion on our part. Pope Francis then raised a challenging question – one which ought to continue ringing in our ears during 2019. The Holy Father asked, “Could it be that the growth of a materialistic ‘throwaway culture’ has in fact made us increasingly indifferent to the poor and to the most defenceless members of our human family, including the unborn, deprived of the very right to life?”

As we begin this new year, I invite you to pray regularly, at home and in your parishes, the ‘Choose Life’ Prayer for Ireland (below) and to consecrate yourselves, your homes and our country to the heart of Mary the Mother of God:

Lord Jesus, you are the source and lover of life.
Reawaken in us respect for every human life.
Help us to see in each child the marvellous work of our Creator.
Open our hearts to welcome every child
as a unique and wonderful gift.
Guide the work of doctors, nurses and midwives.
May the life of a mother and her baby in the womb be equally cherished and respected.
Help those who make our laws to uphold
the uniqueness and sacredness of every human life, from the first moment of conception to natural death.
Give us wisdom and generosity to build a society that cares for all.
Together with Mary, your Mother,
in whose womb you took on our human nature, Help us to choose life in every decision we take.
We ask this in the joyful hope of eternal life with you, and in the communion of the Blessed Trinity.

Our Lady of Knock, pray for us.
All the Saints of Ireland, pray for us.