6 November 2010
Homily of Archbishop Diarmuid Martin for the 50th Anniversary Mass in Memory of the Victims of the Niemba Ambush
In prayer and remembrance we have come to recall to mind the lives and witness of nine distinguished Irish men who died in the service of peace in the tragic Niemba Ambush fifty years ago.
The 1960’s was an amazing period in modern history. For those of us who were alive then and vividly remember that period, it was a time of great hope. The world was changing. The desire for independence, with which we in Ireland could identify ourselves, was taking root around the world, in one country after another. New countries were emerging and taking their place in The United Nations and on the world scene.
Africa was changing. African countries had gone through the experience of being deprived of their independence and now were on the brink of a new future and a new hope. That sense of independence which the generation before mine in Ireland had fought for and consolidated was within the reach of African Countries.
There was a great sense of a new birth of respect for peoples. Courageous leaders in Africa wanted not just political independence, but above all they wanted the best for their people. What was at stake was not just a new politics of independence but a new hope for a new generation. These courageous leaders felt that they could achieve a different future for their people. Ireland was one country which could understand this.
African independence did not work out as simply as we had all expected. There were many other interests at work. Tension broke out in the Congo. The people of Africa had invested so much in their dream of independence and that dream was now being shattered.
A new concept began to emerge in international life. There was little talk then of what today we call the international community. But there were some counties which felt that they had a responsibility to come to the aid of African countries so that they would not have to undergo the trauma of civil war. Ireland and other likeminded countries felt that they had a responsibility to help in such a situation. Something had to be done to halt the hand of violence and work for a peaceful resolution of conflicts for the good of the ordinary citizens, who like decent people worldwide only wanted peace, dignity and development for themselves, their families and their countries.
Ireland responded and responded nobly. Ireland had only been a Member of the United Nations for just a few years, but Ireland was then, as it is now, committed to a different vision of the future of nations and peoples. In a spirit of generosity Ireland responded, recognising that each of us has a responsibility for the good of the entire human family.
What we celebrate today is an important part of our recent history with many lessons for today. We celebrate peace-keeping. We celebrate a people of Ireland who care, a people of Ireland who felt and still feel an obligation to do something to defend the fundamental rights of others, not out of colonial or economic or selfish interests, but because that is the right thing to do as part of the human family.
The mission to the Congo was something of which Ireland can be proud. The distinguished history of peace-keeping carried out by our defence forces, An Garda Síochána and our Foreign Service – involving also our volunteers and our missionaries – has brought honour to the name of Ireland. I have seen at first hand the work of Irish peace keeping troops aboard. We can be proud of our officer Corps which has undertaken high international responsibility. We can be proud of our soldiers who have shown have shown courage and humanity in their interaction with the people: courage and humanity, but also a unique capacity in their specific mission as military peace keepers. Few countries have attained a similar capacity technically and humanly.
Prestigious universities have now long since established courses in the techniques of peace keeping, while our soldiers had instinctively found the same techniques and theories in practice trough their basic humanity.
I greet the veterans from that period. I greet the generations of soldiers and officers who have carried on in the same tradition which has brought honour and respect to our country. I greet the relatives of those soldiers who took part in this initial Congo mission. I greet the relatives of the nine victims of the Niemba Ambush. When I read with pride the story of their commitment I cannot avoid thinking that these deceased victims of the Niemba Ambush would today have been grandparents, they would be looking back with pride and satisfaction on the nobility of their commitment, lovingly and with affection telling their story to their grandchildren. That experience was not to be theirs.
Their families represented here today were deprived of the experience of knowing deeper and deeper a wonderful, courageous and caring spouse, father or grandfather. You, their relatives, have paid the price that comes from doing the noble thing. You have paid the price for something which make us as individuals and as a nation truly proud.
When God created humankind he created us as a family. These who died at Niemba died in the service of an ideal. They were not soldiers of aggression, but soldiers following an ideal which has been a mark of our nation and which is the mark in any event of true humanity.
The nineteen sixties were a moment of hope when the notion of working together to seek a better world, at home and on the international front, inspired many. A world which had not long come out of the horrors of the Second World War saw that international peace and development could only be achieved through a new sense of solidarity.
Perhaps today, in changed times, it is precisely this sense of national pride and identity in solidarity that our country needs. We have to face harsh economic times, which will affect all of us, but may well affect the weakest and the vulnerable most. Government has to take the measures necessary to restore our basic economic framework to healthy function. But we need something else: we need that sense of national solidarity, that tough yet realistic confidence that Ireland as a country and as a people can do great things.
The readings of our Mass have reminded us how much the life and death of each of us has its influence on others. The God revealed to us in Jesus Christ is a God of love, who accompanies our lives and destinies, not in a judgemental or uncaring way, but as the one who shows us what love is. In reminding us of what love means, God also teaches us as individuals and as a human family that the peace we all long for does not come just from having and possessing, but above all from that ability to give and to share and to care. International peace needs international solidarity. Peace and progress at home needs that same sense of personal caring for each other and of doing something not out of interest but because good is to be done.
Our first redaing reminded us that the souls of the just experience now the reward of the righteous and are in the hands of God. May God keep the nine victims of the Niemba Ambush in the happiness of heaven. May God watch over their families, and may we all learn from their sacrifice.