23 SEPTEMBER 2006
THE CHURCH AND CONFLICT
HOW TO BECOME A PART OF THE SOLUTION.
LESSONS LEARNED FROM NORTHERN IRELAND
Keynote address by Archbishop Sean Brady, Archbishop of Armagh and Primate of All Ireland
At the Annual General Assembly of the Conference of the European Justice and Peace Commissions
Wellington Park Hotel, Belfast.
“I hope that those who have power to do so, will commit themselves totally to a shared
and positive future, by putting in place a local power-sharing Assembly which has full
community support for the institutions of law and order. I hope that all those who can
make this happen will consider carefully their responsibility to the greater good and
the benefits of local accountability” – Archbishop Brady
Your Excellency Bishop Schwarz, my brother Bishops, Members of the Justice and Peace
Commissions of Europe, distinguished guests;
Recently I came across a poem by a young Church of Ireland Rector working here in
Belfast. In it he reflects on his sense of a new common understanding emerging among
the peoples of the world and he writes: ‘Friends from another land, have taught me much…
to grow, through prayer and praise, to better days”.
I also welcome all of you, most cordially, my friends from other lands. Many of you
have taught me much about the Church and conflict. Your courageous testimony and
heroic example in the face of conflict and oppression have inspired us here in Ireland
to grow and progress hopefully to better days.
In spite of the weather, the presence here of so many friends from other lands is a
great encouragement for all of us who work, in the name of Jesus Christ, for better
days in Ireland.
I want to thank you most sincerely for your decision to come here to Belfast for this
General Assembly. As the stories you have heard and the people you have met over these
few days will testify, this is an important city for those who wish learn about the
urgent challenge of reconciliation and the things that make for peace. Belfast is a
city of contrasts, of people of humour and generosity, of welcome and warmth. Yet it
is a city which bears within its terraced streets and fine public buildings, a legacy
of violence and pain which continues to dim its dreams and its possibility of becoming
one of the most vibrant and welcoming cities of Europe. Your decision to be with us,
motivated by your Christian vision of justice and peace, gives us fresh heart to make
that dream a reality.
THE POSITIVE ROLE OF THE CHURCHES
This is where my reflection on ‘The Church and Conflict – Lessons learned from Northern
Ireland’ begins. With the simple conviction that in Jesus Christ we can make all things
THE BASIS OF TRUE PEACE
All things are made through, and in, the Word of God. They are a real reflection of God.
We are called to see our own intrinsic goodness and to recognise that same goodness
and lovableness in all other human beings as well. If we see all of creation as a gift
of God and a reflection of God, then it is our privilege, and our duty, to preserve the
harmony and right order, which comes from God. When we begin to appreciate that in all
things we are sustained by the love of God in creation, this realisation makes for peace.
And I think the Churches can become part of the solution by proclaiming that message loud
As the Compendium of the Social Doctrine of the Church puts it: “Before being
God’s gift to man and a human project in conformity with the divine plan, peace is in
the first place a basic attribute of God” (488). Nevertheless, peace always remains
a human project and those who commit themselves to that project as peacemakers are
called ‘blessed’ by the Lord.
However, nowadays people are too often encouraged to see themselves as essentially
consumers and producers and in competition with one another. In fact, nowadays many
people need opponents, if not enemies, for their own sense of identity. Conflict
and confrontation characterise so much of life that, as a result, hostility, anger
and envy of others often intensify. However, it seems to me that those who see
themselves as children of God and brothers and sisters of Jesus Christ have to reject
such attitudes and their destructive consequences for real peacemakers promote
partnership not conflict, genuine peacemakers support friendship not confrontation.
Authentic peacemakers build peace not war.
One of the common mistakes made by people outside of Northern Ireland, including many
British and Irish politicians, is to believe that the conflict here is essentially a
conflict of religion, of competing Christian traditions resolutely intolerant of one
another and vying for dominance. This is a convenient but inaccurate presentation.
As with all conflicts across the world, the situation in Northern Ireland is the result
of a complex mixture of history and politics, of culture and identity, of tensions over
land and resources, of fear of those who are different and ultimately, of the need for
each of us to belong.
This is why your decision to come to Northern Ireland is so important. Far from being
the main protagonists of the conflict in Northern Ireland, the main Christian traditions
here, represented in part by our esteemed panel, have played a critical part in building
the culture of peace and tolerance which is slowly taking root in our land. In the words
of one Unionist politician recently;
…without the Churches, for all their faults… the period of
the Troubles would have been much worse. Although the ‘two
communities’ are now highly segregated in terms of where
they live, work or go to school, on the whole there is
probably still more civility between them than there would
have been without the presence of the Churches.
While it is not a religious conflict – it is a sectarian conflict in the sense of
sectarianism understood as hostility or suspicion directed against those who belong
to a different religious denomination.
However, there are those who would wish the Christian Churches, with their greater
understanding of the peace that is not of this world, to provide a stronger and more
enthusiastic leadership in the search for peace and reconciliation. They urge the
followers of Christ to resist the temptation to be held captive by fear, ignorance
or sectarianism. We are often reminded of the Call of God to the ministry of
reconciliation. To the making of peace, to the seeking of the unity willed by Christ
so that the world might believe. We ignore this call at our peril.
I believe that Northern Ireland, despite all the set backs and problems which remain,
is fundamentally a story of hope. It is also, I believe, a story from which other parts
of the world, indeed even the so-called ‘international war on terrorism’ can learn.
THE SCOURGE OF VIOLENCE
Perhaps the first lesson to be learnt from Northern Ireland is that violence is a
scourge! It can never be the basis of peace. Violence may sometimes achieve domination
over others or their community but it cannot win that community’s participation or
consent. As the Compendium puts it: “Peace and violence cannot dwell together. Where
there is violence God cannot be present”.
As you will have witnessed so powerfully from your visits to different groups, working
with the victims of violence, the use of violence, whether by the state or by paramilitary
organisations, leaves an indelible mark on the memory and emotions of those whom it
affects and sometimes of those who perpetrate it.
As the experience of Northern Ireland suggests, once the first act of violence is
perpetrated, whether in defence or in aggression, the original reason for the use of
violence is quickly lost sight of in the deadly cycle of violence, hatred, revenge
and misunderstanding which almost inevitably follows. This is why promises of short
wars or rapid revolutions are rarely realised.
A Presbyterian working party on Non-Violent action in the 1970’s listed the following
causes of violence:
* Violence arises from fear and anxiety;
* Violence is intensified by the example of violence.
Our culture, including the media, finds it easier to focus on violent behaviour than
on its opposite. But we need to support the proponents of peace and the examples in
our world of non-violent alternatives to conflict. As the fall of the Berlin Wall and
of the Iron Curtain remind us, bloodless revolutions are possible:
* Violence arises from social injustice.
Until genuine inequalities in the social, economic and political realm are addressed,
peace will always be vulnerable to the righteous claim of every human being to be treated
with justice. That includes the right to be treated with respect and parity of esteem.
This is a basic biblical principle and a key lesson in the search for peace.
* Violence arises from people’s sense that they have no effective say in their
One of the key lessons learnt in Northern Ireland is that strategies which promote the
ability of people to participate in the political process, to articulate and organise
around their legitimate concerns, are critical in building a culture of non-violence.
In this regard I would just like to say that I welcome all recent initiatives directed
at supporting the ability of the loyalist community to develop its social and political
capacity. A confident unionism and a confident nationalism, are not mutually exclusive
possibilities. What is of continuing concern, however, is the failure of certain
paramilitary organisations to state clearly that they have accepted the principle of
majority consent in the Good Friday Agreement and that, whatever happens in coming months
in the political negotiations, they accept that the use of violence for political ends
can never be justified. The failure to provide such reassurances is a matter of deep
concern for many people at this time. This brings me to the final cause of violence
identified by the Presbyterian Working Group on non-violence:
* The need for agreed, fair and accountable systems of law and order, based on
the principles of human rights.
No society can achieve a stable peace without an effective system of law and order. Law
and order is essential to the common good; it prevents any individual or group acting
beyond the limits of their legitimate rights and affirms our interdependence as citizens
of a shared political entity. The transition to a more equitable, balanced and accountable
system of law and order here in Northern Ireland has been a slow but immensely significant
and positive process. Some believe that much more needs to be done to ensure complete
confidence in such a system. What is beyond question is that a lot has been done. However,
commitment to the fair, impartial and accountable administration of law and order is an
inseparable part of the administration of Government.
It is accepted that the tolerance of subversive or criminal activity is incompatible with
responsibility for the administration or law and order. On the other hand, where reasonable
assurances have been given that there is a commitment to support just and representative
institutions of law and order, and where this is confirmed by all reasonable means, it is
difficult to justify the absence of a system of devolved Government, especially of a
system which does not have responsibility for the administration of policing and justice
within its remit.
Speaking about peace in Northern Ireland is like speaking about a glass that is half
empty or half full, depending on your point of view. The peace we enjoy here at present
has been described as an ‘unstable sort of peace’ but it is real peace, and we should be grateful.
Looking at the glass that is half empty, we could think of the amount of
organised paramilitary crime that still exists, the hold the paramilitary groups still
have on some communities, and we could conclude that the absence of war is not the same
as peace. The evil of bigotry and sectarianism still exists, a huge amount of work still
needs to be done to heal old wounds and bring the parts of our divided community closer
together. We could think of the devolved administration that has been suspended and the
dangerous political vacuum that now exists, and the apathy, even cynicism, about politics generally.
Looking at the glass that is half full, we think of the number of organisations working
hard to bring our fragmented society together and to restore dignity to those on the margins
People are now under a lot less stress regarding the security situation. The ceasefires,
the Belfast Agreement and the decommissioning of IRA arms, have made a huge difference.
People feel a lot more secure, a lot more at ease. The latest IMC Report confirms that
the glass is more than half full.
All of this has created the climate where, hopefully, more progress can take place. People
can begin to talk to each other and work together and discuss with each other the future
ahead as a shared future in a way that would not have been possible ten years ago.
Recently I attended a meeting of the Irish Inter-Church Committee. This is a Committee
which represents the main Christian churches in Ireland. There we heard a most heartening
analysis and presentation from the Office of the First Minister and Deputy First Minister
on the way forward. Even though the devolved administration is suspended some people are
at work to chart the way forward which they describe as a ‘shared future’. How encouraging
it was to hear that ‘shared future’ described as follows:
“The establishment, over time, of a normal, civic society, in which all
individuals are considered as equals, where differences are resolved through
dialogue in the public sphere and where all people are treated impartially.
It is also a society where there is equality, respect for diversity and
recognition of our inter-dependence”.
The speaker went on identify the key challenges that lay ahead and they were:
* Relationships (in other words, building up good community relationships);
* Dealing with the legacy of conflict and violence;
* Working towards reconciliation in a divided society;
* Eliminating violence and poverty.
I must say that I found this most encouraging but I repeat: politicians, civil servants,
diplomats, cannot do this on their own. It will only happen if we all become like
St Francis, channels of peace and instruments of this shared future. It will only happen
if we are all inspired to banish hatred from our own lives and to bring love, to replace
injury with pardon and to build up trust by dispelling doubts and fears.
A FRAGILE PEACE
The conflict here, like most recent conflicts elsewhere, has shown once more to everyone
just how fragile peace is. Peace is a human project as well as being a gift of God.
Preservation and consolidation of peace requires an act of commitment on the part of all.
Peace can be ensured only by opening up new prospects of dialogue and encounter, new
channels of forgiveness and reconciliation.
The Rev Ruth Patterson, Director of Restoration Ministries has eloquently described her
concept of reconciliation: “For me reconciliation has something to do with giving us back
to each other or perhaps recognising for the first time the gift that we are to each other.
To do this we need to cultivate a generosity of spirit, especially in listening, in building
relationships across the many divides in our society, in going on our own inner journey of
reconciliation, and in not despising the small gestures and actions that, taken and anointed
by the Spirit, could turn this island upside down”.
The healing and reconciliation process that is called for everywhere is multi-faceted.
Political and legal processes can definitely go a long distance. But there is, however,
a growing awareness that these legal and political means can only do so much. In themselves
they are not adequate to the task of healing and reconciling. Of course they can examine
what happened in the past but they cannot heal memories. The law can punish the wrongdoers
but it cannot bring about actual forgiveness. Social conditions can certainly facilitate
reconciliation but they cannot guarantee it.
There is another dimension required and it is the spiritual dimension. Here Christians
certainly have something unique to offer. The Good News, brought by Jesus Christ is, in
itself, a story of healing and reconciliation. It is the story of the reconciling of the
human family with God and of people among themselves. Jesus proclaimed, in deed and in word,
the healing compassion of the Father. While it is God who initiates and brings about our
reconciliation and brings our reconciliation to completion, God also gives us the privilege
of sharing in the work. God makes us co-workers in the task of uniting all peoples as we
journey towards the fullness of the Kingdom. It is for us to find the best way of sharing
in the task.
A recently published report entitled The Irish Churches and Peace Education – An Overview
and Evaluation was prepared by two university Colleges. It concluded that there is a
continuing obligation for the Churches to be involved in peacemaking and educating for
peace. It also concluded that the Churches are in a unique position to facilitate the
development of a culture of peace. It found the Churches have the capacity and influence
to make a major contribution in the move from a culture of violence towards a shared future.
The Report obviously believes that the Church can become part of the solution and indicates
how that can happen.
We need to find new ways of giving common witness to the peace of Christ which can transform
the world. One of the aspects of my work that I enjoy and benefit from most, is my close
working relationship with the leaders of the main Christian Churches – and so many others –
who are working together at a local level. We need new opportunities to express our
interdependence, to work together on areas of mutual interest and concern – education,
the challenge of secularism, the values of family and marriage, the Gospel of life, these
are all areas where the Christian Church could work more closely together.
In the words of Nelson Mandela: ‘there is no easy road to freedom. We know well that none
of us acting alone can achieve success. We must, therefore, act together as a united people
for national reconciliation, for nation building, for the birth of a new world.’ This is
what Christ desires of us.
Northern Ireland and the island of Ireland are part of Europe. As the late lamented Pope
John Paul II reminded the Council of European Bishops Conferences in 2000: “Europe is really
not a closed or isolated territory. Europe has been built by expanding overseas and meeting
other peoples, other cultures, other civilisations”. As the Apostolic Exhortation, published
after the Second Synod on Europe stated: “Europe, all of Europe needs to be an open and
a welcoming country”. Of course, one of the new phenomena of our times is the presence,
on the island of Ireland, of so many immigrants from so many of your countries in our midst.
I think of Poland, Lithuania, Portugal and Latvia in particular. We welcome them
wholeheartedly. We appreciate their goodness, their many and diverse talents and their
great willingness to work hard and to play their part in working for the common good of
society. We, for our part, pledge to offer them pastoral care and to help them to get
the justice, respect and protection to which they are entitled.
Their presence in our midst challenges us all to improve our ways of coping with diversity.
That challenge may eventually prove providential in helping us deal with our traditional
problems and divisions. We too must make our own, the firm conviction proposed in 1991
by Pope John Paul II in his encyclical letter Centesimus Annus that the market place needs
to be appropriately controlled by the forces of society and by the State so as to guarantee
that the basic needs of the whole of society are satisfied.
THE POWER OF PRAYER
Peace is a gift of God, a human project. But, first and foremost, peace is an attribute
of God. Since we are made in the image and likeness of God we all desire to share in that
peace, not just in the peace of eternity but we yearn to enjoy that peace here and now
on this earth. So there goes up this constant litany of prayers and intercessions from
the people of God to beg for this precious gift.
We have learned that here in Northern Ireland people have turned to ask the intercession
of the saints, especially St Francis, to ask that they too may be made channels of peace.
Here in Ireland the help of St Oliver Plunkett has often been sought in the search for
peace. During his ministry as Archbishop, St Oliver worked tirelessly for peace. He
finally paid the supreme price – when he was executed in Tyburn, London in 1681.
Another lesson which we have learned is that peace does indeed come dropping slow. Peace
is in much patience as Thomas a Kempis said.
St Oliver Plunkett endured all his trouble with great patience and proved himself an
outstanding example of reconciliation by his forgiveness without exception of all and
his pleading for forgiveness from all.
The time for healing wounds has come. The time to bridge the chasms that divide us has
come. The moment to build is upon us. I hope that the coming weeks and months will see
all those who have power to do so, commit themselves totally to a shared and positive
future, by putting in place a local power-sharing Assembly which has full community
support for the institutions of law and order. I hope that all those who can make this
happen will consider carefully their responsibility to the greater good and the benefits
of local accountability. I believe that the majority of people in Northern Ireland want
to see such a process evolve and to see it soon. Perhaps then, Northern Ireland will be
able to take its rightful place among the most generous, welcoming and hopeful places
of the world.
My hope is that the children of the next generation will never have to suffer the fear
and the pain which their parents suffered. I hope that we will seize the opportunity
which now exists to build a peace – OK maybe not a perfect peace but a solid peace.
I sincerely hope that we will be equal to the challenge and the opportunity that presents
itself now, for history will judge us severely if we don’t.
Archbishop of Armagh &
Primate of All Ireland
NOTES TO EDITORS:
* Jus et Pax Europa (Justice and Peace Europe) is the coordinating body for the Justice
and Peace Commissions of the Catholic Bishops’ Conferences of Europe. Each year they
hold an annual General Assembly on an agreed theme. This is the first time the event
has been held in Ireland and the theme is the: “Challenge of Reconciliation: what
Europe can learn from Northern Ireland.”
* Attending as a panel for Archbishop Brady’s keynote address to the Assembly are:
Bishop Alan Harper, Church of Ireland Bishop of Connor, Rev. Harold Good, former President
of the Methodist Church and Rev. Donald Watts, Clerk of the General Assembly of the
Presbyterian Church in Ireland. The panel will offer a response to Archbishop Brady’s
* Approximately 60 delegates from almost every country across Europe will attend,
including Archbishop Anxhelo Masafra of Shkodra, Albania, Bishop Vaclav Maly of
Prague, Archbishop Diarmuid Martin of Dublin, Bishop Raymond Field, Auxiliary Bishop
of Dublin and Chair of the Irish Commission for Justice and Social Affairs, Bishop
Patrick Walsh of Down & Connor, Bishop Donal McKeown, Auxiliary Bishop of Down & Connor
and His Excellency Archbishop Giuseppe Lazzarotto, Papal Nuncio to Ireland.
* On Saturday afternoon, 23 September, the delegates will tour the interface areas of
Belfast and then divide into smaller groups to visit organisations such as the Omagh
Victims Group (part of this meeting will include a visit to the Memorial Garden in Omagh),
WAVE, Relatives for Justice, the Clonard-Fitroy Fellowship and a number of individuals
working at interface areas and with victims of the troubles.
* On Sunday, 24 September, at 11 a.m., the whole delegation will join Methodist Minister
Rev John Wonnacot and a number of groups which make up the Forthspring project at the
Shankhill/ Springfield Road interface for a service of thanksgiving. During the service
Bishop Leo Schwarz, Auxiliary Bishop of Trier, Germany, and President of Justice & Peace
Europe will present Rev. Wonnacot with a piece of the Berlin Wall.
* Later on Sunday at 5.30pm the Papal Nuncio, Archbishop Lazzarotto, will concelebrate
the opening Mass of the General Assembly in St. Peter’s Cathedral, along with Bishop
Walsh. The sermon will be preached by Bishop Schwarz. A general invitation to attend
this Mass has been extended to Parishes in the surrounding area.
Martin Long Director of Communications (086 172 7678)
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