Irish archbishop: The sacrifice of Protestants and Catholics in WWI should unite us

Irish archbishop: The sacrifice of Protestants and Catholics in WWI should unite us

Archbishop Eamon Martin. Credit: Northern Ireland Executive CC BY ND 2.0.
Archbishop Eamon Martin. Credit: Northern Ireland Executive CC BY ND 2.0.

.- Irish Protestants and Catholics should see the 100th anniversary of Armistice Day as an opportunity to build peace and reconciliation, Archbishop Eamon Martin of Ireland said at an interreligious memorial service on Sunday.

The service, held at St. Anne’s Cathedral in Belfast, was attended by Dean of Belfast the Very Reverend Stephen Forde of the Church of Ireland, and several other religious and political leaders. Other services were held simultaneously throughout the country to mark 100 years since the end of World War I.

“The brave people we are remembering are calling us to recognize their shared suffering by building a better future where difference is accepted and respected,” Martin said.

“...it is difficult for any of us to imagine the thoughts and feelings of the young men on the battlefields of the First World War who... in the darkness, prayed for home, for family, for peace.”

But one way to honor their memory is to remember their shared suffering and sacrifice as something that unites, rather than divides, Protestants and Catholics, he said.

“Sadly, because of the cruel twists and tensions of our history of conflict, the fact that Irish Catholics and Protestants fought and died, side by side, was neglected for too long – and perhaps conveniently – by all sides, both north and south of the border,” he said.

“People preferred to cling on to a history of difference and separation, rather than recognise and embrace our shared story of common suffering.”

Religious disputes have long been part of the history of the majority-Catholic Republic of Ireland, which gained its independence from Britain in 1916, and Northern Ireland, which is predominantly Protestant and a part of the United Kingdom.  

In his address, Martin recalled a peace pledge he and other religious leaders had made earlier in the year at another World War I memorial in Belgium:  “...as Protestants and Catholics, we apologise for the terrible deeds we have done to each other and ask forgiveness …we appeal to all people in Ireland to help build a peaceful and tolerant society …we affirm that a fitting tribute to the principles for which men and women from the Island of Ireland died in both World Wars would be permanent peace.”

“Gathered here this afternoon, in Belfast, let us renew that peace pledge, together, in our hearts,” Martin said. About 35,000 of 210,000 Irishmen who served in British forces in World War I died in battle.

Remembering the dead, “to honor and pray for them – especially during the month of November – is important to the practice of my faith,” Martin said.

“In recent years I have grown to understand more fully that, whilst we may remember in different ways, and whilst our forebears had differing and often conflicting approaches to the war, what unites us now in their memory is so much greater than anything that is talked up to divide us.”

“Peace is not merely ‘ceasefire’ or the absence of violence and war,” Martin said, but “an ongoing work of reconciliation, justice and hope: it means coming out of our own trenches; building bridges, not parapets; ‘beating swords into ploughshares, spears into pruning hooks,’” he said, quoting the book of Isaiah.

“Jesus said, ‘Love one another as I have loved you (John 15).’  Peace is the fruit of that love which urges us to uphold the value and dignity of every human life and to be passionate about respecting others, especially those who are poor or marginalised,” he said.

“Our hope remains for a lasting peace on the island of Ireland. May Christ, the Prince of Peace, help us make that hope a reality for the youth of today and tomorrow. Amen.”

Tags: Catholic News, Ireland, World War I, Protestants