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Churches: our failings as leaders of reconciliation

Joint St Patrick's Day message speaks of the 'difficult truths' that must be faced, Faith representatives 'lament times when they didn't promote togetherness'

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Archbishop Eamon Martin

Archbishop Eamon Martin

Archbishop Eamon Martin

Church leaders have issued a St Patrick's Day Statement admitting the need to face "difficult truths about the failings in their own leadership" when it comes to peace and reconciliation.

In a joint address, the Church of Ireland, Catholic Church, Presbyterian Church in Ireland, Methodist Church in Ireland and Irish Council of Churches, also spoke of a "moral responsibility to acknowledge the corrosive impact of violence".

Catholic Archbishop Eamon Martin, Church of Ireland Archbishop John McDowell, Presbyterian Moderator David Bruce, President of the Methodist Church in Ireland Tom McKnight and Ivan Patterson, President of the Irish Council of Churches, described how the Christian faith can help the healing of relationships and offer a hopeful vision for the future.

"Some may struggle with the concept of a shared history when it comes to the centenary of the partition of Ireland, the establishment of Northern Ireland and the resulting reconfiguration of British-Irish relationships," they said. "What is undeniable...is the reality that we have to live in a shared space on these islands, and to make them a place of belonging and welcome for all.

"In our approach to the past we have a moral responsibility to acknowledge the corrosive impact of violence and words that can lead to violence, and a duty of care to those still living with the trauma of its aftermath."

The leaders recognise a need to "face difficult truths about failings in their churches' own leadership in the work of peace and reconciliation".

"We have often been captive churches; not captive to the Word of God, but to the idols of state and nation," they said.

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They have planned a series of engagements this year which will include opportunities for conversation and reflection - as churches, as well as with political and civic leaders - and other events to mark the centenaries.

Entitled 'In Christ We Journey Together', that was the theme chosen by the Church Leaders Group (Ireland) for their shared reflection on the centenaries. They also filmed a video message at Saint Patrick's Church of Ireland Cathedral in Armagh.

"We have an opportunity, in marking these events from our past, to be intentional in creating the spaces for encounter with those who are different from us, and those who may feel marginalised in the narratives that have shaped our community identity," they said.

"As Christian churches we acknowledge and lament the times that we failed to bring to a fearful and divided society that message of the deeper connection that binds us, despite our different identities, as children of God, made in His image and likeness.

"We find inspiration and encouragement in the progress that has been made through our peace process in building relationships of mutual respect and trust across these islands."

They said that while "these relationships are often tested, and will at times be found wanting", our communities "have also demonstrated great resilience, solidarity and compassion, evident most recently in the response to Covid-19".

"The power of institutions has diminished, leading to greater accountability for those in leadership.

"This helps create an environment where we can value our different identities in a pluralist public square, conscious of both our rights and responsibilities. Yet there is much work still to do," the leaders added.

"With so much of our lives now being lived in the digital space there can be a temptation to retreat into spaces where our definition of community is limited to those who agree with us."

They added: "This leads to an increasingly fragmented society in which too many people fall through the cracks."

The joint statement deals with the centenary of the establishment of Northern Ireland, the partition of Ireland, and the resulting reconfiguration of British-Irish relationships.

It has also been filmed as a video message, with each Church Leader voicing a portion of it.

The heads of church explore how the Christian faith can contribute to the healing of relationships and offer a hopeful vision for the future.

And they also welcome the progress that has been made through the peace process in building relationships of mutual respect and trust across these islands.


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