I expressed sadness and loss at the partition of Ireland … perhaps we in the Churches could have done more to deepen our understanding of each other and to bring healing and peace to our divided and wounded communities;
- the issues of legacy and the reality of trauma experienced by many families here must be included and handled sensitively … Victims have spoken about the importance of continued access to justice, together with meaningful opportunities for truth and information recovery. No line can easily be drawn on our past;
- Governments should see the funding of education and training of our young people not as an expenditure, but as an investment.
The beginning of a New Year is always a good time for both looking back and for expressing hopes and dreams for the future.
The Word of God today invites us to seek a blessing for the New Year. The psalmist asks: ‘O God, be gracious and bless us’. The Old Testament reading invokes the ancient priestly blessing:
“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 6:23).”
In his message for today and the new year, the 55th World Day of Peace, Pope Francis observes that, sadly, in many places around the world, the “noise of war and conflict is intensifying, diseases of pandemic proportions are spreading, the effects of climate change and environmental degradation are worsening, (and) the tragedy of hunger and thirst is increasing.”
Pope Francis urges us to show solidarity with those in our human family who are suffering and to “work together to build a more peaceful world, starting from the hearts of individuals and relationships in the family, then within society and with the environment, and all the way up to relationships between peoples and nations.”
He suggests that one of the ways to build peace is by promoting dialogue between the generations, “between the keepers of memory – the elderly – and those who move history forward – the young”. The Holy Father explains:
“Young people need the wisdom and experience of the elderly, while those who are older need the support, affection, creativity and dynamism of the young.”
The importance of intergenerational partnership and dialogue on the island of Ireland came home to me last October when I joined with the other Church leaders to hold a Service of Reflection and Hope to mark the centenary of 1921. During the service I expressed a personal sense of sadness and loss at the partition of Ireland and, with my fellow religious leaders, I acknowledged that perhaps we in the Churches could have done more to deepen our understanding of each other and to bring healing and peace to our divided and wounded communities.
We were blessed that so many young people took part in that Service in Armagh and they made such a refreshing and positive contribution – their presence and their youthful voices and singing were full of confidence and hope that they can be the ones to help to build the bridges necessary to overcome the mistrust and divisions of our past.
As we begin a New Year, conversations are already taking place about what constitutional change and greater sharing on this island might look like. Intergenerational dialogue has much to offer these conversations – balancing reflection on the past with hope for the future. Clearly, the issues of legacy and the reality of trauma experienced by many families here must be included and handled sensitively in these conversations. Victims have spoken about the importance of continued access to justice, together with meaningful opportunities for truth and information recovery. No line can easily be drawn on our past and there is clearly much work to be done in exploring and building a unity of hearts and minds towards a shared vision for our future in this island.
Recalling words that he spoke a few years ago to the young people of the world, Pope Francis offers the following thoughts on this World Day of Peace:
“If, amid difficulties, we can practise this kind of intergenerational dialogue, ‘we can be firmly rooted in the present, and from here, revisit the past and look to the future. To revisit the past in order to learn from history and heal old wounds that at times still trouble us. To look to the future in order to nourish our enthusiasm, cause dreams to emerge, awaken prophecies and enable hope to blossom. Together, we can learn from one another (Christ is Alive 199)’. For without roots, how can trees grow and bear fruit?”
Another helpful opportunity for dialogue between the generations emerges in the context of the global climate crisis. The voices of young people were loud and clear at the COP26 conference in Glasgow in October. Among these were young voices of faith, reminding us of our responsibilities under God to be caring stewards of creation – always alert to the protection of life and the dignity of all and to the disproportionate impact that climate change is having on those who are already vulnerable and on the margins. These young people are strongly committed to dialogue and mutual respect between faith and science, while remaining determined to call out needless waste, ruthless exploitation and destruction of our planet’s resources. After all, they argue, the world not only belongs to us but to the generations who will follow us. In this case, therefore, intergenerational solidarity is not just an option, ‘but rather a basic question of justice (Laudato Si 159).’
In commending and encouraging young people for speaking into the global climate crisis and seeking a more just world, Pope Francis makes an interesting, but alarming, observation on this World Day of Peace. He writes:
“In recent years there has been a significant reduction worldwide in funding for education and training … Military expenditures, on the other hand, have increased beyond the levels at the end of the Cold War and they seem certain to grow exorbitantly.”
It is high time, Pope Francis says, that such a situation needs to be inverted. Governments should see the funding of education and training of our young people not as an expenditure, but as an investment.
Likewise, a fitting New Year’s resolution for all of us in Church and in society, might be to invest more of our time and resources, listening, dialogue and prayer in our young people who are already making it clear that they see themselves not simply as our future, but also as essential and creative contributors to our present.
- Archbishop Eamon Martin is Archbishop of Armagh, Apostolic Administrator of the Diocese of Dromore and Primate of All Ireland.
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