Catholic Church leader Eamon Martin: I feared Northern Ireland’s centenary service was a celebration

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The head of the Catholic Church in Ireland admitted he was uncomfortable attending a service with other religious leaders to mark Northern Ireland’s centenary and the partition of the island .

The crossover community service of ‘reflection and hope’ in Armagh this Thursday will be attended by the Queen, but Irish President Michael D Higgins will not attend after controversially claiming the event has become politicized.

Archbishop Eamon Martin said he had been criticized within his own community for engaging in discussions around the centenary and understood their concerns.

But he said he felt it was an opportunity to recognize and be sensitive to other points of view, and after making his concerns known, his “voice was heard by other leaders of the world. church “.

He said that as a Catholic it was “particularly difficult” for him to engage in a discourse on the “celebration” of the 1921 centenary and that he understood the views of those within his own. community who saw the score as a “terrible moment of mourning.” and separation ”.

He admitted that at one point he was “a little afraid” that the centenary was a celebration of the founding of Northern Ireland “and not much else” and that he had expressed those concerns. to other church leaders.

But he said that as head of the Catholic Church he felt it was his responsibility to encourage his own community to “enter into this period of reflection”, bringing with it their concerns, their regrets on the past and their aspirations for the future.

Sinn Fein will also not attend the event, although the SDLP, senior members of the Irish government and trade unionists will.

Archbishop Martin was speaking on a special podcast released as part of a series featuring key church leaders on the topic of Identity and Belonging: Past, Present and Future.

The podcast series begins today, with Archbishop Martin in conversation with Irish language educator and community activist Linda Ervine, who shared her own experience working to cultivate an appreciation for the Irish language in the Protestant community / unionist.

The podcast, presented by broadcaster Judith Hill, began with Archbishop Martin discussing the centenary, his own fears and responsibilities as head of the Catholic Church, ahead of the service of reflection and hope of this Thursday.

“For me, as a Catholic, it was always going to be particularly difficult to have any idea about the centennial celebration of 1921,” he said.

“I shared this with my brothers and sisters from other Christian traditions and said, ‘How can we view this year 2021 as an opportunity to build greater mutual understanding, to work towards more harmony and reconciliation?

“We felt that as church leaders it was important for us to invite people into a shared space where we could reflect together on issues related to identity and belonging. “

Archbishop Martin said the message from church leaders for St. Patrick’s Day recognized that the centenary would be viewed very differently by people here, and that churches had played a role in it.

“For me in our St. Patrick’s Day message we were trying to express that this year means a lot of different things to different people, but for me one of the most important aspects of our message was our acceptance of a kind of shared responsibility for everything that has gone wrong in that part of the world over the past 100 years, ”he said.

“And perhaps as churches even accepting our part in the fomenting and not doing enough to discourage discord and disagreement and perhaps fall back on our own camps to some extent. For me, it was deeply meaningful, a kind of shared expression of remorse and a commitment to building a deeper understanding of each other this year and years to come. “

This shared expression of remorse, he said, was accompanied by a shared commitment to build better mutual understanding this year and in the years to come.

“I felt that as a leader of the Catholic Church in Ireland, I had a responsibility to perhaps encourage members of my own flock to enter this period of reflection, bringing with us all of our concerns. , worries and, let’s say, regrets about the past, ”he said.

“Many members of all the communities here have now accepted that there is a sensitivity around this particular centenary and that we should be sensitive to each other and realize that on this island and in these islands there is such variety. points of view and yet we must recognize that people have legitimate aspirations.

“It was one of the things that was incorporated into the preamble to the Belfast Good Friday Agreement, that we have to recognize each other’s legitimate aspirations.

“For me, this is something that really motivated my call to members of the Catholic community to try to better understand what happened in 1921 and to try to use it as an opportunity to reach out to our brothers and sisters who do not share the same point of view as us.

Admitting his initial concerns that the centenary would be a celebration of the founding of Northern Ireland, the Catholic Primate said he was happy when his views were taken into account and the special service of reflection and hope organized by all church leaders.

“I have to say in all fairness that we pointed out to everyone involved that we would like to lead a service, that we would invite others to share with us by bringing back to God all of our mistakes, all of our hopes and this was a time when I felt I really had to voice my concern, ”he said.

“I was really happy that my voice was heard by other church leaders and I think we reclaimed the opportunity to do something very special and very deeply symbolic in the fall.”

The podcast was taped in late summer and is the first in a series of five to air daily this week. Podcasts can be accessed at www.irishchurches.org/podcast or by searching for “Church Leaders Group Ireland” on your preferred podcast provider.

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