Speaking at the annual festival of St Oliver Plunkett in Drogheda on Sunday 2 July, Archbishop Eamon Martin, Archbishop of Armagh and Primate of All Ireland said that “standing up for your faith is not the stuff of ancient history. It is a living reality for Christians across the world today. Even in Ireland, Catholics and Christians are entering a time when we will need the gift of courage to stay faithful to the teachings of the Gospel.”
Saint Oliver Plunkett, whose feast day was celebrated on 1 July, was beatified by Pope Benedict XV in 1920 and was canonised by Pope Paul VI in 1975. Last Saturday marked the 336th anniversary of his execution.
Speaking in Saint Peter’s Church in Drogheda, the Memorial Church of Saint Oliver Plunkett in the Archdiocese of Armagh, Archbishop Eamon said, “The stories of St Oliver Plunkett, and many other heroic people of faith in the Penal times, remind us of the courage and sacrifices of our ancestors. I thank God for the freedom to believe and worship that we enjoy in Ireland today, and I pray that freedom shall never again be undermined or taken for granted in this country.
“I say that strongly today, being conscious that the persecution of Christians remains widespread and often unreported in many parts of the world. Just over a month ago, 28 Coptic Christians were killed in Egypt, and this followed from the deaths of 45 others who were murdered at worship on Palm Sunday last.”
Archbishop Eamon said, “It is shocking to think that in 2017 thousands of Christians are still being displaced or expelled, tortured, discriminated and murdered simply because they are Christian. This is happening in many countries of the world – from Iraq and Syria, to Libya and Nigeria , North Korea and Vietnam, in Pakistan, Indonesia and parts of China and India. Research reveals that the vast majority of religious discrimination in the world today is against Christian believers, and much of this is due to the political manipulation and distortion of Islam and other faiths.
“Sadly, many Catholics and other Christians in Ireland and other parts of the Western world, remain unaware or ignorant of the horrors and extent of persecution that our sisters and brothers in Christ have to suffer.”
Archbishop Eamon continued, “How can we mark this day, honouring and commemorating Saint Oliver Plunkett, without opening our eyes and ears to the brutality of what is happening around the world today? As sons and daughters of the Archdiocese of Armagh, as admirers of the courage of our great patron Saint Oliver Plunkett, surely we all have an obligation to be informed, raise awareness, and act in solidarity with our fellow Christians? I recommend for your study and reflection Persecuted and Forgotten? – the global analysis of the oppression of Christians compiled by the organisation ‘Aid to the Church in Need’, which is readily available online.”
In reflecting on the many Christians today who witness by their lives rather than give up on their beliefs, Archbishop Eamon said he finds himself asking why someone would give their life for their faith? He said, “Clearly it is because they believe that this life on earth is not the sum total of everything. They place their hope, as Saint Oliver Plunkett did, on another life, eternal life with God in the happiness of heaven.
“They gain inspiration from the words of today’s second reading: “We believe that having died with Christ we shall return to life with him: Christ, as we know, having been raised from the dead will never die again. Death has no power over him any more (Romans 6)”; and, from the words of Jesus in Matthew’s Gospel: Anyone who does not take his cross and follow in my footsteps is not worthy of me. Anyone who finds his life will lose it; anyone who loses his life for my sake will find it (Matthew 10).
“That same hope and commitment helped Irish people to hold fast to their faith during decades of persecution in this country – people like Saint Oliver Plunkett, the blessed Irish martyrs and countless other unsung Irish women and men.”
Archbishop Eamon continued, “We are living in the midst of a more aggressively secular culture which insists at times on conformity and compromise with the thinking of the day, and which tends to ridicule and reject any recourse to the concept of timeless or absolute truths.
“Pope Francis has spoken about another type of persecution, what he termed the “velvet-gloved” persecutions that are “cloaked in politeness”: the ones that marginalise you, take your job away if you fail to adapt to laws that “go against God the Creator.”
“There are some who would seek to expel people of faith from public discourse and debate, or caricature our Church as being “unmodern”, “authoritarian”, “hypocritical”, “bigoted”, “closed” to progress and personal rights and autonomy.”
Concluding his homily, Archbishop Eamon said, “In this context it is important that, in love and in truth, we are not afraid to witness to our Christian faith in public, and especially these days to speak courageously on issues like the sacredness and dignity of all human life from the first moment of conception until the movement of natural death, or the uniqueness of love and marriage between a man and a woman that is open to the gift of children as fruit of that love, about the need for a fair distribution of the worlds goods, on the importance of respecting the environment and caring for the Earth, our common home.”
Each year, thousands of pilgrims visit Saint Oliver Plunkett’s shrine in Saint Peter’s Church to venerate his relics and to learn about the saint’s extraordinary life and ministry. Pilgrims pray for the sick and troubled, for family and friends. They fittingly turn to Saint Oliver, who was martyred for his faith in a time of political, religious and social turmoil, to pray for his intercession concerning conflict areas at home and abroad. Celebrations of the life of Saint Oliver also take place this weekend at his birthplace in front of the old ruined Church at Loughcrew, Oldcastle, Co Meath. Saint Oliver, a former Primate of All Ireland, was ordained Archbishop of Armagh in Ghent, Belgium, 1669 and was martyred in Tyburn, England, in 1681. Along with Saints Patrick and Malachy, Saint Oliver is a patron saint of the Archdiocese of Armagh.
This year’s festival was centered on the Holy Family Church in Ballsgrove, which is not only south of the river that flows through the town, but is also in the Meath diocese, while the martyr’s relics are housed in St Peter’s Church in the town centre, which is in the Archdiocese of Armagh. As a result, there was a symbolic ‘Hands-across-the-Boyne’ element to the procession as it brought the two dioceses together.
Each year, thousands of pilgrims visit Saint Oliver Plunkett’s shrine in Saint Peter’s Church to venerate his relics and to learn about the saint’s extraordinary life and ministry. Pilgrims pray for the sick and troubled, for family and friends. They fittingly turn to Saint Oliver, who was martyred for his faith in a time of political, religious and social turmoil, to pray for his intercession concerning conflict areas at home and abroad. Celebrations of the life of Saint Oliver also took place last weekend at his birthplace in front of the old ruined Church at Loughcrew, Oldcastle, Co Meath.