Homily by Bishop of Clonfert Dr John Kirby, Chief Celebrant at the Mass offered for the late Archbishop Michael Courtney, former Apostolic Nuncio to Burundi
8 JANUARY 2006
HOMILY BY BISHOP OF CLONFERT DR JOHN KIRBY AT THE MASS
FOR THE LATE ARCHBISHOP MICHAEL COURTNEY
FORMER APOSTOLIC NUNCIO TO BURUNDI
The peace accord in place in Burundi today is largely the result of
Archbishop Courtney’s endeavours – Bishop Kirby
Special commemorative sculpture in memory of the late Archbishop Michael
Courtney unveiled today in Loughrea
Introduction and Welcome
“Tá dhá bhliain caite ó’n lá a chuireamar an tArdeaspag Mícheál sa reilg bheag
alainn taobh le Loch Dearg. Níor thuigeamar ag an am sin cé’n fath gur maraiodh
é. Níl an t-eolas sin againn fós, agus chuile sheans nach mbeidh sé againn go
deo. Níl brón an lae sin scaipthe fós ach oiread, ach inniú cuirimid an brón #
ar leath-taobh go gceiliurimid saol an ardeaspaig. Is cúis atháis dúinn annseo
i gCluain Fearta go dtáinig an méid préaláidí eaglaise agus uaisle annseo go Baile
Locha Riach inniú chun omós a thabairt dá chuimhne agus a leacht chuimhneacháin
a nochtadh. Fearaim fáilte is fiche rómhaibh go léir.
“I welcome Archbishop Giuseppe Lazzarotto, Apostolic Nuncio to Ireland, who as
well as being the representative of Pope Benedict XVI was also a colleague of
Archbishop Courtney in the diplomatic service of the Holy See. I welcome
Archbishop Seán Brady of Armagh, Primate of All Ireland, a former fellow student
of Michael Courtney in the Irish College, Rome. I welcome Archbishop Diarmuid
Martin of Dublin, Primate of Ireland, a colleague and friend of Michael Courtney.
I welcome Archbishop Michael Neary of Tuam and my fellow bishops Martin Drennan
of Galway, John Fleming of Killala and Willie Walsh of Killaloe, the home diocese
of Michael Courtney. I am happy that archbishop Joseph Cassidy formerly Michael
Courtney’s bishop as bishop of Clonfert and Archbishop Tom White a former Apostolic
“Representing the Irish Government, I welcome Minister Noel Treacy, Minister of
State at the department of Foreign Affairs. And I welcome Seán Ó Neachtain MEP
representing the European Parliament. Prior to his appointment as Apostolic
Nuncio, Michael Courtney was the representative of the Holy See at the Council
of Europe in Strasbourg for five years. Thank you all for honouring us with your
presence this afternoon.
“I welcome Michael’s brother Dr Louis Courtney from Cavan, his sister Kathleen
Vandenberg from Portroe, Nenagh and his sister Mary Spreng-Courtney from Switzerland.
I welcome his in-laws, his nephews and nieces and some of his many friends lay
and clerical from different parts of Ireland and Britain. I am delighted that
so many of you were able to come to this celebration this afternoon.
“We offer this Mass for Archbishop Michael close to the 2nd anniversary of his
death. We celebrate the Mass of the day: the Baptism of the Lord. However, as
you will notice the readings and response have a strong, if coincidental, relevance
to the life of Archbishop Courtney. These readings have not been specially chosen;
they are the readings of the day.
“And as I mention coincidence, there is another that did not occur to me until
recently. The 29th December, the day of Michael Courtney’s death, is also the
day of the death of another murdered Archbishop – Thomas Becket, whose memorial
day we continue to celebrate on that day.”
“The Lord will bless his people with peace.
“After two years the mystery of the assassination of Archbishop Michael Courtney
is still unsolved. We do not know who killed him or why they chose to do so.
Five weeks before his death, Michael told me that he felt that he had good relations
with the Government of Burundi and with the last group of rebels who were still
not participating in the government and with whom he was negotiating to encourage
participation. Indeed, during my very brief two-day visit to the country new
members joined the government having signed a peace treaty some weeks previously.
“Michael was due to go as Apostolic Nuncio to Cuba, but requested the authorities
in the Holy See to allow him to remain in Burundi for another month as he felt
that he was close to achieving a peace accord of some significance. He was
astute in reading a situation and I doubt if he was totally wrong. However,
the decision he made in staying on in Burundi ultimately cost him his life.
“While we do not know who planned his death, we know something about his motivation
for life. He believed in the richness of life and lived his own life to the full.
He gave of his best both in his work as a diplomat of the Holy See and in his
recreational pursuits. As Apostolic Nuncio in a severely divided country, he
worked assiduously to help to bring peace. Burundi is 70% Catholic and Michael
was very eager to use his influence for good. I know that he was not enamoured
by his appointment to that country, but I also know that once appointed, he gave
all his energy to his work for peace. He was reluctant to leave because of his
belief that peace was possible. Today’s reading from Isaiah is entirely appropriate:
‘He will not grow faint or be crushed until he has established justice’. Michael
Courtney did not grow faint nor was he crushed by the task of working for peace.
The peace accord in place in Burundi today is largely the result of his endeavours.
“However, his work in Burundi was not confined to his diplomatic role. As a good
linguist, he quickly learned the local language Kiburundi and he celebrated Mass
on a daily basis for 150 – 200 local people in the church of the nunciature while
on Sundays the congregation in the open air was about 1,000. Indeed, this pastoral
aspect to his work formed the basis for his dedication to his work for peace. He
had got to know the people and was concerned for their future.
“Working for peace is not a peripheral aspect to the work of the Church. It is a
core value and Pope Benedict XVI has again affirmed the steadfast resolve of the
Holy See to continue serving the cause of peace. Peace is the fruit of an order
planted in human society by its Divine Founder, an order which must be brought
about by humanity in its thirst for ever more perfect justice. Human history
has to be conformed to the divine order in truth, justice, freedom and love.
“According to Pope Benedict’s recent message for the World Day of Peace, all
people are members of the one and same family and all share a common destiny. The
truth of peace calls on all people to work for productive and sincere relationships,
to follow paths of reconciliation and forgiveness, to be transparent in dealings
with others and to be faithful to their word.
“Catholics have a duty to proclaim and embody ever more fully the Gospel of Peace.
This is not just a matter for governments and the international community. It
concerns us all. God is a loving Father who wants to see his children look upon
each other as brothers and sisters working responsibly to place their various
talents at the service of the common good of the human family.
“Thus, peace is not something that happens accidentally, it is the fruit of justice
and we have to continue working for justice in our communities here at home as
well as abroad. We are now one of the richest countries in the world and we
need to reflect our new-found prosperity in the welcome we show to those from
overseas who have come to work in Ireland. Taking advantage of foreign employees,
whether refugees or migrant workers and discriminating against them in matters of
accommodation or employment is an injustice. We have an excellent reputation
overseas for our financial generosity to developing countries. We can create
an equally good reputation here at home for our welcome and our care for those
coming to work here. As church, we should be at the forefront of efforts to
enhance the welcome we give to foreigners. One of the key phrases of the famous
parable of the Last Judgment was: ‘I was a stranger and you welcomed me’ (Mt 25:35).
“All of this is relevant to the celebration we have here today. We are unveiling
a memorial to the life of Archbishop Michael Courtney. We are proud of his work
and his achievements as a representative of the Holy See. We are conscious – as
he always was – of his sharing in the priesthood of the Clonfert Diocese.
Paraphrasing the phrase from today’s Gospel we say: ‘with you we are well pleased’.
We honour him in this memorial, but we will continue to honour his memory by
dedicating ourselves to a commitment to justice and to peace as its fruit.”
Conclusion and Thanks
“Mr Tom Glendon, an internationally known sculptor and stone carver from Bray,
designed and executed the memorial to Archbishop Michael Courtney. Tom has
been involved with us for the past few years and carved the two capitals here
at the front of the cathedral as part of our centenary celebrations. Interestingly,
Michael Shortall carved the other capitals in the 1920’s and he was responsible
for the memorial to Fr Michael Griffin and now Tom Glendon fills a similar role
today. I am happy that Tom’s work is a truly fitting memorial to Archbishop
Courtney and I thank him very much. In thanking Tom, I thank too, at Tom’s
behest, those who helped him in the erection of the memorial over the past few
days. I thank the Loughrea Parish FÁS team for their work in preparing the site
for the memorial.
“The Loughrea Cathedral Choir under the direction of Máire Ní Dhuibhir has sung
the Mass ‘Is tú mo Cheol’, Let Creation Shout and Sing composed by Máire Ní Dhuibhir
herself. Comhaltas Ceoltóirí Éireann commissioned the Mass in song and instrumental
music in thanksgiving for our musical past. Its mood is very fitting for today’s
celebration ‘for all music comes from God’.
I thank you for adding significantly to the liturgy today.
“Finally, I thank the clergy of the parish for their work in preparing the cathedral,
the grounds, the liturgy and the planning over the past few weeks. Fr Cathal
Geraghty as Administrator has put tremendous effort in getting ready for today.”
Go Raibh Maith Agaibh uile.
Notes for Editors
* Archbishop Courtney (1945 – 2003) was assassinated on Monday 29 December 2003 in
Minago, south of the Burundi’s capital, Bujumbura.
* Following today’s 12:00 Mass in St Brendan Cathedral in Loughrea, Co Galway,
a special commemorative sculpture in memory of the late Archbishop Michael Courtney
was unveiled on the grounds of the cathedral.
* The Chief Celebrant at the Mass was the Bishop of Clonfert, Dr John Kirby. Also
concelebrating were: Archbishop Giuseppe Lazzarotto Apostolic Nuncio to Ireland;
Archbishop of Armagh and Primate of All Ireland Dr Seán Brady, Archbishop of Dublin
Dr Diarmuid Martin, Archbishop of Tuam Dr Michael Neary; Archbishop Joseph Cassidy
(former Bishop of Clonfert); Archbishop Thomas A White (former Apostolic Nuncio);
Bishop of Galway Dr Martin Drennan; Bishop of Killala Dr John Fleming; Bishop of
Killaloe Dr Willie Walsh.
* Representing the Government was the Minister of State Mr Noel Treacy TD and Seán
Ó Neachtain MEP represented the European Parliament. Family members and close
personal friends of the late Archbishop Courtney were also in attendance.
* The eight foot high limestone sculpture was commissioned by the Diocese of Clonfert
and stands in the cathedral grounds. It was handcrafted by Bray based master sculptor
and letter cutter, Mr Tom Glendon.
Martin Long Director of Communications (086 172 7678)