Archbishop Martin: Our soldiers take their stand for peace…today I bless an image of Our Lady of Guadalupe in memory of Private Seán Rooney RIP

12 Dec 2023

Caption At the blessing of the picture of Our Lady of Guadalupe in the Holy Family Church in Dundalk, Co Louth, Archdiocese of Armagh: Father Declan Shannon, Chaplain to Forces (CF); Father Michael Hinds CF;  Archbishop Eamon Martin; Head Chaplain Father Paschal Hanrahan HCF; and, Father Richard Delahunty CSsR

Today attending the anniversary Mass for the late Private Seán Rooney RIP, along with close family members, were: Chief of Staff of the Defence Forces, Lieutenant General Seán Clancy; Department of Defence Secretary General, Jacqui McCrum; Assistant Secretary, Bernie Maguire, and chaplains to the Irish Defence Forces.

  • Homily delivered by the Chief Celebrant Archbishop Eamon Martin for the first anniversary Mass of Private Seán Rooney RIP 

It is hard to believe that it is a year since we gathered here at the Church of the Holy Family in Dundalk for the funeral of Private Seán Rooney RIP.  I remember there was a strange mixture of emotions that day – of deep sadness, combined with immense pride at the passing of this young man who had given his life in the service of peace making.

In many ways, those strong emotions are as real today as they were last December.

Last year, we were honoured at the funeral with the attendance of Uachtarán na hÉireann;  An Taoiseach; Chief of Staff of the Defence Forces, and many political and civic and leaders; but what stands out in my memory is the witness that you – Seán’s family and loved ones – gave to all of us – with your dignified presence and your powerful words.  And then there was the outstanding example of Seán’s army colleagues, including his comrades from 27 Infantry – although tearful and broken hearted they still took care to afford full military honours to Seán.

I prayed that day that you all would be graced with strength to get through the weeks and months ahead; here we are, a whole year later, joined together once more in memory of Private Seán Rooney – son, grandson, brother, fiancée, brave soldier, national hero.

My thoughts and prayers turn naturally this morning to our Irish peacekeepers still on the ground along the Lebanese border, doing their best to keep the peace and protect life.  The current horrific situation in Gaza ripples out like a deadly earth tremor, even as far as Southern Lebanon.  Our soldiers take their stand for peace and life, there in the middle of growing hostilities, increased tensions and lethal threats.  Let us not forget them and keep them and their families in our thoughts and prayers this morning and especially as Christmas approaches.  Let us pray and work for an immediate ceasefire, the return of all hostages and the freeing up of humanitarian corridors to provide access to the aid that is so desperately needed.

One of the important features of Advent is the message of Hope.  There seem to be so many reasons nowadays to give up on hope – the terrible wars, violence and injustices that seem intractable; the shocking disregard for human dignity and vulnerable life; and, the almost relentless advance of climate change.  Sometimes also, at a personal level we can feel overwhelmed by the pressures and worries of everyday life, including the terrible pain of bereavement at the sudden death of someone close.  Still, as people of God we do not stop daring to hope.

The Advent readings, anticipating the arrival of the Prince of Peace, paint hope-filled word, pictures of flowers blooming in the desert, and of harmony on the Lord’s holy mountain, where they do not hurt or harm, today we hear of the loving Lord, whose Word lasts forever, who seeks out the lost and gathers the lambs in his arms.  The Advent prayers speak of consolation, of waiting patiently, and anticipating that even in the darkest of times, there is light and love and peace; there is life, goodness and kindness; and, there is forgiveness, healing and reconciliation.  Advent promises us that a culture of death and war and violence can never be allowed to overcome the culture of life.

Today, 12 December, marks an important Marian feast – the feast of Our Lady of Guadalupe – who is the patroness of the culture of life, and in particular of unborn life.  Our Lady of Guadalupe is also sometimes described as the ‘star of the new evangelisation’ because she inspires a fresh outpouring of the joy of the Gospel.

It was way back in 1531 that Mary appeared what is modern today Mexico to a young peasant man called Juan Diego.  An interesting feature of Mary’s apparition at Guadalupe is that she is pregnant, carrying within her the unborn Jesus.  With great tenderness, Mary told Juan Diego: “Am I not here who am your Mother? Are you not under my shadow and protection? Am I not your fountain of life?“

That is why people all over the world today are praying through Mary’s intercession that human life will always and everywhere be cherished and protected.

Back in early January Seán’s grandad Eugene sent me a letter suggesting that we might have a statue or an icon of the pregnant Madonna here at the church of the Holy Family.  I met Eugene and we spoke and prayed about this idea.  Eventually in June we decided to put up the image of Our Lady of Guadalupe here in the church; a while back the Mexican ambassador to Ireland had presented me with an authenticated copy of that image.  I agreed to come and bless the image on the feast day of Our Lady of Guadalupe, which is today.  And since it was on 12 December, I could offer Mass as an anniversary Mass for Seán, who himself died, protecting life and peace.

We hope that people who see the image will be inspired to protect all human life from the first moment of conception until the moment of natural death and all of the moments in between,   to protect life from the threat of violence and war, from addictions, from despair, and from the culture of aggression, anger and abuse of power and authority that seem to be so prevalent in today’s world.

I remember so well that, on the day of Seán‘s funeral last year, you, Natasha spoke powerfully about how much you cherished Seán’s life, and about the importance of love, compassion and friendship – especially in the family.  Some of your words on that day are inscribed on the small plaque here beside the image of the pregnant Madonna, Our Lady of Guadalupe.

Natasha we were all deeply moved by your testimony about how Seán was placed in your arms when you were only 16 years old.  You told us how Seán gave you hope for the future; how you wanted to be better for Seán; to finish school for Seán; to go onto third level education for Seán; and to buy your own house for Seán.  You said you wanted Seán to have a mother he could be proud of.  You spoke about how in his life, he gave you purpose, and how you would love him forever.

Saint Paul once wrote that “Faith, Hope and Love endure – and the greatest of these is Love.” Natasha, you and all Seán’s family know that Love lasts forever; that Love is for life; and, Love continues even beyond our earthly life.

When Eugene and I spoke about having this Mass here in Holy Family, on 12 December, the Feast of Our Lady of Guadalupe, and about blessing here today an image of Our Lady of Guadalupe in memory of Private Seán Rooney, we didn’t realise that there was something else special about this date.  It was on this day, 25 years ago, 12 December 1998, that baby Seán Rooney was carried into this Church for baptism.

And so our sadness today is tinged with the hope and joy of knowing that Seán’s witness to peacekeeping and the protection of life will continue, because he lives on in our hearts and prayers today, and always.  May he rest in peace and may all of Seán’s family, loved ones and many friends and comrades find consolation in knowing they were special to Seán, and he to them.

May he rest in the peace of Christ.  Amen.


  • Archbishop Eamon Martin is Archbishop of Armagh and Primate of All Ireland