World Day of Peace – 1st January, 2008.
St. Patrick’s Cathedral, Armagh.
Homily by the Most Rev. Gerard Clifford.
Auxiliary Bishop of Armagh.

Every year on the first of January Christians throughout the world are asked to pray for peace and every year the Holy Father selects a theme in the whole area of peace and reconciliation and encourages Christians worldwide to reflect on it. The practice began in 1968 when Pope Paul VI called for a World Day of Peace. Today we celebrate the fortieth anniversary of that event.

Over the years here in Northern Ireland we have celebrated that day and repeatedly we have had to call for peace in our country. The so-called ‘troubles’ in Northern Ireland began in 1969 and year after year we have reflected on how peace might be brought to Northern Ireland and to the world. This year we can look back in thanksgiving and say, for the first time in many years, we now have solid foundations in place that will hopefully ensure that a lasting peace is established in our country. Today is an opportunity to thank God for that. It is an opportunity to thank politicians and people of goodwill who worked tirelessly over the years to ensure there would be a new beginning for Northern Ireland. The signs are positive that a brighter future lies ahead for all. However, we cannot take it all for granted. Our politicians, our leaders, our communities need our continual support and encouragement. They need our prayers.

The political progress has been described by some as a real miracle and we thank God for that but forty years of strife and division in Northern Ireland has left its own legacy of bitterness, hatred and distrust. For some the hatred of the past has cheapened life. We have seen the awful destruction of life and property over the years. The results remain with us today. The taking of life in the past has desensitised us to the value of life. Punishment beatings remain the unacceptable face of a hang-over from past violence. We condemn such punishment beatings and violence of any kind as totally unacceptable, totally unchristian.

This year his Holiness Pope Benedict XVI has chosen the theme ‘the human family, a community of peace’ as the focus for our reflection. He reminds us that the family is at the very heart of society. The family is the first teacher of peace in the world. We have an obligation to support family, to encourage legislation that supports the family unit. Any legislation that threatens to weaken the family unit is totally unacceptable.

Pope Benedict reminds us that as families we live in our common home, this world, and we have a responsibility not just to family but to all of society, those alive today and also to generations to come. We have an obligation to care for society and for our world.

In the nineteen sixties and seventies society began in a new way and with a new urgency to talk about our responsibilities to the world around us. The concept of ecology was given a new priority. The word derives from the Greek for house or home. We have responsibilities to those who share that home with us but also to future generations. We have a moral responsibility to protect and to preserve our world so that we can hand it on intact to those who come after us. The resources of this world like water, fuels, land and air are not unlimited. We have responsibilities towards the environment and the world around us. Greed, avarice and careless waste of the world’s resources damage all of us.

That presents a challenge to all. It demands a change of life-style for many. In today’s world we stand condemned for the waste of natural resources given to us in trust. We see the waste of energy and materials on a daily basis. We see it in the waste of scarce resources like water and fuel and the pollution of the air that we breathe. We see a major part of the world suffering from hunger, malnutrition, disease and want. All of the deprivation in family and community is linked in one way or another to the abuse by society of the resources given to us in trust. The call to all of us is to live simply so that others may simply live.
When the Apollo XI astronauts started on their historic journey to the moon they brought recorded messages from leaders throughout the world. The messages were deposited on the surface of the moon. Pope Paul VI sent his own message, a quotation from Psalm VIII. The words, recorded on a small disk of indestructible metal, are now embedded in the surface of the moon. They are a reminder to us that God’s own word in Sacred Scripture is forever new, it does not pass away. His words stand as a sign of lasting hope for all of us. The words of the Psalm challenge all of us;

‘O Lord Our God, how wonderful is your name over all the earth…
When I see the heavens, the work of your hands
the moon and the stars which you arranged
What is man? That you keep him in mind
Mortal man? That you care for him’.

Every one of us is called to care for our home in this world. It is a gift given to us in trust. I pray that all of us may recognise that and live accordingly.