Troubles legacy: Protestant and Catholic church leaders admit to having been ‘captive to the idols of state and nation’ in St Patrick’s Day message on reconciliation

In their annual St Patrick’s Day message, the largest churches have confessed to failures of leadership in reconciliation due to having been “captive ... to the idols of state and nation”.

Wednesday, 17th March 2021, 12:17 pm
Updated Wednesday, 17th March 2021, 12:54 pm

The church leaders made the admission in a statement intended to encourage reconciliation in 2021, noting that it is a year of centenaries – for the creation of Northern Ireland and the partition of Ireland.

The statement came from Presbyterian Moderator Rev Dr David Bruce, Church of Ireland Primate of all Ireland Rev John McDowell, Methodist President Rev Dr Thomas McKnight, Roman Catholic Primate of all Ireland Rev Eamon Martin and President of the Irish Council of Churches Rev Dr Ivan Patterson.

The clerics issued an invitation to wider civic society to engage in further dialogue.

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At St Patricks Church of Ireland Cathedral, Irish church leaders came together to deliver their St Patrick's Day message. Rt Rev Dr David Bruce Moderator of the General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church in Ireland Most Rev John McDowell Church of Ireland Archbishop of Armagh & Primate of all Ireland Rev Dr Thomas McKnight President of the Methodist Church in Ireland Most Rev Eamon Martin Roman Catholic Archbishop of Armagh & Primate of all Ireland Very Rev Dr Ivan Patterson President of the Irish Council of Churches

Entitled ‘In Christ We Journey Together’ – the theme chosen for their shared reflection on the centenaries – they recognise that some may struggle with the idea of a shared history of the centenaries. Together, the leaders explore how the Christian faith and Christian social ethics can contribute to “the healing of relationships and offer a hopeful vision for the future”.

They added: “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.”

They also recognise that there is a need to “face difficult truths” about failings in their churches’ own leadership in the work of peace and reconciliation.

Regarding the role of the churches, they said: “We have often been captive churches; not captive to the Word of God, but to the idols of state and nation.”

They welcomed the progress that has been made through the peace process in building relationships.

And while acknowledging that there is much work still to do, they set out a vision for a society where different identities in a pluralist public square can be valued.

“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,” they said.

They have chosen to issue their message on St Patrick’s Day, they said, to embrace the way this former slave “who embodied that interconnectedness”, brought Christianity to Ireland some 1,500 years ago.

“In this context, a single century is but a brief moment in time, but ... significant anniversaries can provide a valuable opportunity to reflect on our history and explore what can be learned for today.”

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