MAYNOOTH, Ireland (Catholic Online) – The power-sharing agreement between Northern Ireland’s major Catholic and Protestant political parties to end three decades of sectarian violence represents the promise of a stable future and the hope of building a country where differences are respected and peace can flourish, said Roman Catholic and other Christian leaders.
In a March 27 statement, Archbishop Sean Brady of Armagh, Northern Ireland, president of the Irish bishops' conference and primate of all Ireland, joined with Presbyterian Moderator Rev. David Clarke, Church of Ireland Armagh Archbishop Alan Harper and Methodist President Rev. Ivan McElhinney to welcome the announcements of an agreement between the leaders of the Democratic Unionist Party (DUP) and Sinn Fein to restore devolved government in Northern Ireland.
“Yesterday's announcements,” the four religious leaders said, “represent an important and welcome development in the search for a stable future for Northern Ireland.”
They noted that the Irish faith communities “have long encouraged local politicians to work towards a devolved government for Northern Ireland and we trust that this is now to be realized.”
“We would encourage all to continue to pray for our whole community and our future together,” the Christian leaders said, in the statement released by the Irish Catholic Media Office here. “It is important that everybody continues to build a country where all are valued, difference is respected and peace and harmony can flourish.”
It was an Oct. 9 meeting between delegations led by Archbishop Brady and Rev. Ian Paisley, head of the Protestant DUP, that has been cited as a significant milestone in the process of normalizing inter-community relations in Northern Ireland, marking the first formal encounter between the controversial, sectarian leader and a Catholic primate.
At a news conference at Stormont in Belfast, Northern Ireland, March 26, Rev. Paisley and Sinn Fein President Gerry Adams sat side by side to confirm that power sharing would begin May 8, a historic moment after four decades of what is called “the Troubles” claimed the lives of an estimated 3,700.
While the two long-time adversaries and commanding political figures did not shake hands with each other, their calm joint press conference and their words of conciliation spoke much of how far the peace process had come.
The agreement “marks the beginning of a new era of politics,” Adams said in his statement.
“The relationship between the people of this island have been marred by centuries of discord, conflict, hurt and tragedy. In particular, this has been the sad history of orange and green,” said the head of the political wing of the Irish Republican Army (IRA). “Sinn Fein is about building a new relationship between orange and green and all the other colors, where every citizen can share and have equality of ownership of a peaceful, prosperous and just future.”
Rev. Paisley, too, pointed to the history of Northern Irish sectarian violence and the hopes that it had come to an end. “After a long and difficult time in the province, I believe that enormous opportunities lie ahead for Northern Ireland.”
“We must not allow our justified loathing of the horrors and tragedies of the past to become a barrier to creating a better and more stable future,” he said. “We are conscious of those who have suffered. We owe it to them to build the best possible future.”
On May 8, power will be transferred from London to the Belfast Assembly and Rev. Paisley and Martin McGuinness of Sinn Fein will be nominated as first minister and deputy first minister, respectively. The 108-member assembly’s four largest parties will also nominate 10 departmental ministers.
A Northern Ireland assembly was originally set up under the 1998 Good Friday agreement that ended the sectarian conflict but was suspended in 2002 amidst allegations of the existence of an IRA spy ring and the failure of the IRA to fully decommission its weapons and accept the authority of police forces over the Catholic areas.
Irish President Mary McAleese told reporters, after her March 23 meeting with Pope Benedict XVI, he said that if Catholic and Protestant political parties in Northern Ireland could form a successful power-sharing government it would be "a very powerful Christian witness" for the Balkans and the Middle East, two other areas where conflicts include a significant religious component, according to the BBC.
The Holy See Press Office, in a communique released after the meeting, said that the pope and McAleese discussed, among other issues, “developments in the peace process in Northern Ireland.”
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Pope Francis Prayer Intentions for March 2014
Respect for Women:
That all cultures may respect the rights and dignity of women.
That many young people may accept the Lord’s invitation to consecrate their lives to proclaiming the Gospel.