Vatican News has reported that the leaders of the four main Christian Churches in Ireland gathered in Rome on Monday 21 May to mark the 20th anniversary of the Good Friday Agreement. Speaking to Vatican News, Archbishop Eamon Martin, Archbishop of Armagh and Primate of All Ireland, described the agreement as a ‘life-saving moment’ in which ‘people north and south gave their assent to denouncing violence as means to political ends’.
Jointly hosted by the embassies of Ireland and the United Kingdom to the Holy See, the event welcomed Archbishop Martin, Church of Ireland Archbishop of Armagh Richard Clarke, Reverend Laurence Graham, President of the Methodist Church in Ireland and Reverend Frank Sellar, former Moderator of the Presbyterian Church in Ireland, alongside key political figures that played a part in drawing up the landmark agreement.
The Archbishops of Armagh spoke with Vatican News on the most important achievements of the Good Friday Agreement as well as about their expectations for Pope Francis’ visit to Ireland in August.
In the interview, Archbishop Martin described the Good Friday agreement as a ‘life-saving moment’ in which ‘people north and south gave their assent to renouncing violence as means to poetical ends’.
Archbishop Clarke said it ‘opened a door away from violence into a world of goodwill’, giving the peace-builders a ‘breathing space’ in which to work. The role of Church leaders, he said, is to model good relationships in the hopes that hope that they can ‘cascade down’ to the grass roots.
Both leaders express fears about the current climate of anxiety surrounding the Brexit discussions. Archbishop Clarke spoke of concerns that a ‘hard border’ could reignite ‘fears and antipathy that we are slowly working through’.
Archbishop Martin said it’s vital to avoid ‘getting back into the language of barriers and borders and walls and division’. In Ireland, he said, ‘we’re quite good in Ireland at creating walls and barriers, we’re less accomplished at bridge building’. The risk of drawing lines on a map, he added, puts us ‘back into bunkers, back into our respective corners’ where suspicions overtake the desire for reconciliation, creating borders in minds and hearts, which are harder to overcome.
Looking ahead to Pope Francis’ visit to Dublin for the World Meeting of Families, Archbishop Clarke said he hopes that the idea of ‘the gift of family’ can be restored in the consciousness of all Christian traditions. He notes that Anglican church leaders, as well as the Mothers’ Union are involved in preparations for the event.
Archbishop Martin said he hopes the Pope will ‘speak to our situation’ where so many families have been traumatized by the impact of the Troubles, leaving deep wounds. He added that he hopes the Pope will offer reasons to hope, as well as an ‘affirmation for the fragile, fledgling peace process that has begun’.
The full interview with Archbishops Martin and Clarke can be found on www.vaticannews.va.