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Ireland's church leaders in message of hope, justice and peace

By Alf McCreary

Published 01/01/2016

Archbishop Richard Clarke
Archbishop Richard Clarke
Rev Brian Anderson
Catholic Primate Eamon Martin
Dr Ian McNie

Leaders of the main churches in Ireland have in their New Year message urged people to reach out to each other in peace as they prepare for a year of centenary anniversaries on both sides of the border.

The statement from the four main church leaders urged people to seek a true vision for the future, as well as remembering the past.

This year will see the Republic remember the 1916 Easter Rising, while in Northern Ireland many are preparing to commemorate the Battle of the Somme, where thousands of Ulstermen died in the worst days of World War One.

"This year, 2016, will bring with it the centenary of many significant events which have shaped the history and culture of this island and its people," the church leaders said.

"In remembering our past, we must also seek a true vision for our future. In recent years, much has been achieved in working towards a peaceful society throughout Ireland based on mutual agreement, understanding and respect.

"As the light of a New Year dawns, may our united prayer be that peace and justice will continue to grow and blossom throughout our land.

"May our memories and commemorations of the past, alongside our hopes and longings for the future, strengthen our resolve to live together in harmony, trusting in the Lord Jesus Christ in whom we find our hope, for he is the same yesterday, today and forever. (Hebrews 13:8)"

The message was signed by Church of Ireland Primate Archbishop Richard Clarke, Catholic Primate Eamon Martin, Presbyterian Moderator the Right Rev Dr Ian McNie, Methodist President, Rev Brian Anderson, and the President of the Irish Council of Churches, Rev Dr Donald Watts.

And In a personal New Year message, Archbishop Martin noted that 2016 "has added significance in that it marks the centenaries of the Easter Rising and the Battle of the Somme, events which had a profound impact on the history and culture of this island".

"The commemorations will provide opportunities for us to deepen our understanding of who we are as a people, and to affirm our hope for lasting peace and justice.

"During 2016, we must resist being so indifferent to the other's suffering that we engage in revisionism or false glorification of the past with its tragic loss of human life on all sides.

"Instead, we should redouble our efforts to find safe spaces where we can genuinely hear one another's stories and pain, and bolster friendship, mutual understanding, justice and peace."

Meanwhile, the Archbishop of Canterbury urged people to use "hospitality and love" to defeat "hatred and extremism" in a New Year message pointing to the plight of refugees.

At the end of a year where headlines were dominated by the migration crisis, the Most Rev Justin Welby said Britain had always welcomed the "poor and weak".

He spoke of how Jesus was a refugee, fleeing as a baby with his parents, and who would go on to call on people to "welcome the alien and stranger".

And the Most Rev Welby went on: "In today's world, hospitality and love are our most formidable weapons against hatred and extremism."

Elsewhere, Pope Francis encouraged humanity to hang on to recollections of good deeds, so that gestures of goodness can be seen triumphing over evil.

Francis was presiding over a year's end prayer service in St Peter's Basilica, where he mused about how people are sometimes driven by "insatiable thirst for power and by gratuitous violence".

He said it was impossible to forget "so many days marked by violence, by death, by the unspeakable suffering of so many innocents".

Still, Francis called attention to what he called "great gestures of goodness, love and solidarity" that do not make headlines.

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