Archbishop Eamon Martin's homily and World Day of Peace Message for New Year's Day, 01/01/2020

Saint Patrick’s Cathedral, Armagh

  •  A living Christian faith emboldens us to promote a culture of life, to defend the unborn, to reach out to the homeless, to welcome the stranger, to visit the sick
  • Our country, north and south, truly needs the rekindling of wholesome relationships – socially and politically, nationally and internationally
  • When the hearts and consciences of individuals are moved and troubled by the plight of the suffering and the marginalised, that change begins to happen at a societal and global level.  The voice of God, speaking in our hearts, stirs faith and moves us to action
  • I am looking forward to launching the ‘one in ten’ Rosary campaign – @1in10Rosary – to encourage at least ten per cent of the population to pledge to pray the Rosary, or a decade of the Rosary, every day for their personal conversion and for the transformation of Ireland


Homily and World Day of Peace message

At Masses on New Year’s Day the ancient Blessing of Aaron is read from the Book of Numbers.  Although the Blessing is two and a half thousand years old, its message is timeless:

‘May the Lord bless you and keep you

May the Lord let his face shine on you and be gracious to you

May the Lord uncover his face to you and bring you peace (Numbers 6:22-27)’.

The beginning of a new year brings all sorts of speculation and predictions about what lies ahead – and all the more so this year which also sees the beginning of a new decade.  A century ago the so-called ‘roaring twenties’ heralded for some people a high spirited, optimistic and prosperous age; but for many others, including here in Ireland, the early 1920’s marked a time of recession, austerity and emigration against a backdrop of partition and civil war.

Who knows what the 2020’s will bring?  The newspaper columns these days contain a mixture of hope and uncertainty.  All the more reason, then, to invoke today the Blessing of Aaron – to prayerfully trust that, even if we are somewhat anxious about what the future might hold, we are not alone.  God walks the journey with us.  God gives us what we need to make a difference – in our own lives, in the lives of our loved ones and community, and in the world.  It is also good at this time of the year to make personal resolutions to change and to do better, believing that our lives can be aligned more closely with God’s will for us and for the world.

Today marks the World Day of Peace.  In his message for today, Pope Francis describes peace as “a great and precious value, the object of our hope and the aspiration of the entire human family”.  Pope Francis sees the desire for peace as something which lies “deep within the human heart” and he encourages us to keep on striving for peace despite facing sometimes “insurmountable obstacles”.

“Let there be peace on earth and let it begin with me” – this popular song, heard a lot around Christmas and New Year, reminds us that we can make a difference.  Our words and attitudes, our personal choices and behaviour – in public and on social media – can help to build peace and harmony rather than spread aggression and hatred.  As the out-workings of Brexit begin to emerge, the early years of this decade will be crucial in sustaining peace and rebuilding relationships on the island of Ireland and between us and our neighbours in Britain and Europe.  Archbishop Richard Clarke and I said recently that our country, north and south, truly needs the rekindling of wholesome relationships – socially and politically, nationally and internationally, and this will require men and women of integrity, generosity and courage to take the initiative in making these crucial relationships work.

Just as peace emerges from the depths of the human heart, so also do the answers to the greatest problems facing our country and world in this new decade.  It is only when the hearts and consciences of individuals are moved and troubled by the plight of the suffering and the marginalised, that change begins to happen at a societal and global level.  The voice of God, speaking in our hearts, stirs faith and moves us to action.  In this way a living Christian faith emboldens us to promote a culture of life, to defend the unborn, to reach out to the homeless, to welcome the stranger, to visit the sick. It opens our ears to the “cry of the poor” and the “cry of the earth”, calling us to wise stewardship of God’s gifts of creation and personally to a more “responsible simplicity of life”. A living Christian Faith inspires us to turn towards God in holiness of life, to seek forgiveness for our sins, and to make personal resolutions for change, not only at the beginning of a New Year, but continually on a lifelong journey of conversion.

At the beginning of this new decade it is therefore worth asking ourselves  – does my faith in God make a real difference in my life? Does faith challenge me or have I settled for an “easy listening” comfortable way of living which allows me simply to go on the way I am, relaxed in my choices and perhaps even in my prejudices, in my abuse of created things, my sin and my disobedience of God’s laws?  If our only New Year’s resolution was to be more authentic as people of faith, and to become courageous witnesses to Christ in the world, then with the help of God’s grace and blessing, we can build together a more just and peaceful world for ourselves and others.

It is fitting that the first  day of the New Year is dedicated by the Church to Mary, the Mother of God who, by pondering on the unfolding mystery of the life of Jesus, was able to face the future with hope and serenity and open herself up entirely to God’s will for her. I invite you then to begin afresh this New Year your journey of faith – a journey nourished, like Mary’s, by prayer and contemplation on the Word of God and on the mysteries of the life of Christ.

I am looking forward to launching next month the ‘one in ten’ Rosary campaign for the 2020’s – @1in10Rosary – to encourage at least ten per cent of the population of Ireland to pledge to pray the Rosary, or a decade of the Rosary, every day for their personal conversion and for the transformation of Ireland.  In July, I will lead a pilgrimage to the Marian Shrine of Fatima to dedicate this campaign to Mary and to pray that we can be, like her, courageous witnesses of faith.  As pilgrims in Fatima we will remember in particular the witness of our Christian brothers and sisters who are persecuted in many parts of  the world.

The Rosary has for centuries sustained faith and life in Ireland, and helped countless women and men to discover God’s will in their lives.  It can do so again, enabling us to be courageous witnesses, by pondering every day in our hearts, as Mary did, the deepest mysteries of our faith.

May the Lord bless this initiative for the 2020’s here in Ireland, so that His face may shine on the people of Ireland, and be gracious to us, looking upon us with kindness and bringing us His peace.  Amen.

Christmas 2019 message from the Archbishops of Armagh:
‘A time for re-kindling …’


“Our country, north and south, truly needs the rekindling of wholesome relationships – socially and politically, nationally and internationally”

Together we wish you God’s richest blessings this Christmas and through the year ahead.

These few days at the turn of the year offer an opportunity for people who are normally very busy to give worthwhile time to family and friends.  It can also be a stressful and difficult time for people who feel estranged from friends and loved ones to whom they were once close, and for those who feel they have no-one they can truly call a friend.

Over Christmas and New Year many people are able to rekindle relationships that have somehow gone sour.  We are all capable of bringing light and love into another person’s life – perhaps someone for whom hope itself is fading, someone who desperately needs the rekindling of trust that only care and friendship can bring.  Jesus Christ came into the world to bring us not only the light of his love but also the warmth of his friendship.  Indeed, he assured his disciples that they were more than just “followers”; they were his “friends” (John 15.15).

Our country, north and south, truly needs the rekindling of wholesome relationships – socially and politically, nationally and internationally – and our prayer this Christmas is that men and women of integrity will find the generosity and courage they need to lead and take the initiative in making these crucial relationships work.

As our sharing in ministry here in Armagh will soon be coming to a close, we take this opportunity publicly to thank God for the warm friendship we have enjoyed together (and will continue to enjoy, albeit in a different mode), and we pray as one that 2020 may be a year of rekindling true friendship for all the people of Ireland.

+Eamon
Roman Catholic Archbishop of Armagh

+Richard
Church of Ireland Archbishop of Armagh

Message from the Bishops in Northern Ireland to voters ahead of the Westminster General Election 12/12/2019


It is twenty years this month since the Stormont Assembly assumed the full powers devolved to it as a result of the overwhelming support of citizens on this island for the Good Friday Agreement.  The damaging consequences of the prolonged, ongoing failure to restore the institutions of the Agreement are becoming increasingly clear, especially their impact on the most vulnerable in society.

 

As the people of Northern Ireland return to the polling booths for the Westminster elections we encourage everyone to exercise their right to vote and also to take the opportunity ‘on the doorsteps’ to encourage all political parties to return to the Stormont Assembly as soon as possible.

 

Brexit

The run up to this election has been dominated by the issue of Brexit.  No doubt the final outcome of Brexit will have a significant impact on the political, economic and social life of Northern Ireland, and its fragile peace.  Whatever the eventual decision of the Westminster Parliament on Brexit, negotiations on the future relationship between the UK and the EU will be critical for our future.  The people of Northern Ireland need competent voices to put forward their concerns on these issues and we encourage them to choose leaders who will value positive relationships both within and beyond these islands. 

 

It is worrying that some see the uncertainty over Brexit as an opportunity to drag the community back to a violent past.  We call on all political leaders to promote dialogue as the only way to resolve differences and to create a safe future for our young people. 

 

Abortion law

On 21 October last the Westminster parliament liberalised abortion laws in Northern Ireland. This was a tragic day for the unborn children who will now never bless our world with their unique and precious lives. It was also a sad day for our local democracy as this draconian Westminster abortion legislation was introduced over the heads of local citizens. The right to life is not given to us by any law or government.  Any human law that removes the right to life is an unjust law and must be resisted by every person, every voter, every political representative. For Catholic politicians this is not only a matter of protecting the human right to life but also a fundamental matter of Catholic faith.

 

We have consistently said that the equal right to life, and love, of a mother and her unborn child is so fundamental to the common good of every society that citizens deserve the fullest participation in the democratic debate about the legislation which governs it.

 

Similarly, the freedom of conscience of healthcare professionals and pharmacists needs to be respected and they should never be required to lend their support to an action which conflicts with their commitment to uphold life.  

 

We ask all voters to respond to the current consultation on the draft Westminster abortion legislation and to leave their representatives in no doubt as to how they feel in these matters. We also call on people to continue to pray for a society which respects the equal right to life and care of a mother and her unborn child with a compassion that welcomes every child as a unique and wonderful gift and that supports women who find themselves in difficult circumstances.

 

Ahead of the general election on 12 December, voters have a duty to inform themselves about the position of candidates standing for election in respect of their willingness to support and cherish equally the lives of mothers and their unborn children.  Candidates for election should also make clear their position on defending the innate dignity of every human being, from conception to natural death so that citizens can make an informed decision.

 

Welfare Reform

It is a matter of grave concern that payments under the welfare reform mitigation package for Northern Ireland are due to come to an end on 31 March 2020. This represents a ‘cliff edge’ for many already hugely vulnerable people receiving supplementary payments under this scheme across the North, including an estimated 35,000 households. Many recipients of mitigation payments are unaware that their income will significantly reduce in March under current legislation which means that the effects of these changes will be exacerbated. The unique circumstances of Northern Ireland which justified the introduction of these mitigation arrangements have not changed in the last four years. In fact, arguments have been made that stronger mitigation schemes are needed in light of growing challenges, including the introduction of Universal Credit and cuts to housing benefits in the private rental sector.

 

While we recognise that a programme of mitigations is not a long-term solution, there is a need for welfare reform to be analysed and treated differently in Northern Ireland. It should be acknowledged that a separate system of management for welfare schemes specific to the North may be necessary. The Department for Communities cannot amend the legislation to extend the mitigation payments in the absence of an Assembly, highlighting again the significant negative impact on all citizens in Northern Ireland across a range of issues due to the political stalemate.  In the absence of devolved government, we call on politicians elected to Westminster to seek to ensure that the mitigation package does not end suddenly in March, and that appropriate legislation is enacted to prevent this.

 

Housing and homelessness

Pope Francis has said that ‘There is no social or moral justification – no justification whatsoever – for the lack of housing’.  We are concerned at the level of housing insecurity in Northern Ireland and the number of people, in particular families, facing homelessness. Many others are ‘hidden’ homeless as they seek to rely on family and friends for temporary accommodation, moving constantly with no stability. As bishops stated last year in their pastoral letter Room at the Inn?, the right to shelter, housing and a place to call ‘home’ is an essential human need and right. As the numbers facing housing precariousness and homelessness increase we need to look at how we have ordered society if we cannot meet these basic needs for our citizens. Housing provision cannot be left solely to the market to be treated as any other commodity. This ideological position has failed to provide for our society’s housing needs. Where housing is not available for everyone then the State must step in to provide affordable social housing, introduce controls in the private rental market and exercise its responsibility to ensure the basic needs of its citizens are provided for. In considering candidates for election, it is important that these representatives are willing to take the necessary steps to address the current housing needs of our population.

 

Human trafficking

We have all been made aware recently of the atrocious scourge of human trafficking and of those who seek to exploit people forced to migrate to escape violence or natural disaster, or who hope to find a better life abroad.

 

Pope Francis has called human trafficking ‘an open wound on the body of contemporary society, a scourge upon the body of Christ.’ He has said that ‘we are facing a global phenomenon that exceeds the competence of any one community or country’ and, so we ‘need a mobilisation comparable in size to that of the phenomenon itself’. Migrants are amongst the most vulnerable of our sisters and brothers. We can all empathise with their sense of desperation to reach a foreign shore with hope of finding safety and decent employment.  In this context, following their election on 12 December, and irrespective of various ideological perspectives, we are urging all new members of the Westminster Parliament to serve the common good by allocating significant financial and human resources to tackling this critical issue and to commit to continue to work with European and international partners to combat this global phenomenon.

 

Conclusion

There can be no doubt that the forthcoming Westminster elections will be among the most significant in recent history for the future of the social, economic and political relationships within and between these islands. This brings an even greater responsibility on the followers of Jesus Christ to reflect conscientiously and in an informed way on the wide range of issues involved.  We call for prayers for those who are standing for election to public office and for a respectful public debate about the important issues at stake. 

 

Archbishop Eamon Martin of Armagh and Apostolic Administrator of the Diocese of Dromore; Bishop Noel Treanor of Down & Connor; Bishop Donal McKeown of Derry; Bishop Larry Duffy of Clogher; and Bishop Michael Router, Auxiliary Bishop of Armagh