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Pope recognises Good Friday Agreement’s role in bringing peace to Northern Ireland

By Sarah Mac Donald - 26 August, 2018

“We can give thanks for the two decades of peace that followed this historic agreement, while expressing firm hope that the peace process will overcome every remaining obstacle.”

Pope Francis at the Pro Cathedral. PIC: MAXWELLS

Pope Francis paid tribute to Northern Ireland’s peace process which heralded two decades of peace following the signing of the historic Good Friday Agreement in 1998.

In his address at Dublin Castle on Saturday morning to members of the government and authorities, civil society and the Diplomatic Corps, the Pope urged the people of Ireland to never to lose hope or the courage to persevere in the moral imperative to be peacemakers, reconcilers and guardians of one another.

“Here in Ireland, this challenge has a special resonance, in light of the long conflict that separated brothers and sisters of a single family. Twenty years ago, the international community followed attentively the events in Northern Ireland that led to the signing of the Good Friday Agreement,” he said.

“The Irish government, in union with the political, religious and civil leaders of Northern Ireland and the British government, and with the support of other world leaders, created a dynamic context for the peaceful settlement of a conflict that had caused untold pain on both sides.”

“We can give thanks for the two decades of peace that followed this historic agreement, while expressing firm hope that the peace process will overcome every remaining obstacle and help give birth to a future of harmony, reconciliation and mutual trust,” he said.

On the flight from Rome, the Pontiff told reporters that he was delighted to return to Ireland, having spent three months in Dublin almost 30 years ago to study English.

“It touches my heart, I am returning to Ireland for the first time in almost 28 years. I stayed for almost three months in Ireland when I was studying English (in 1980). For me, it was a very good memory.”

In his address at the Festival of Families on Saturday evening at Croke Park, Pope Francis told the assembled pilgrims that a society that does not value grandparents is a society that has no future.

Pope Francis told the cross-generational audience of tens of thousands assembled in Croke Park for the Festival of Families that it was a big mistake not to ask the elderly about their experience or to think that talking to them was a waste of time.

In an address aimed at extoling the everyday holiness of ordinary men and women, the 81-year-old Pontiff lent solidarity to the elderly, Travellers, to families and to everyday saints in everyday life.

He thanked Traveller Missy Collins of Pavee Point for her testimony in which she related how among Travellers the family has always been a source of strength and solidarity.

Her witness, the Pope highlighted, was a reminder that in God’s house there is a place at table for everyone. No one is to be excluded.

Pope Francis speaks at Croke Park in Dublin. (Pic: MAXWELLS)

Telling the assembled families that they are the “hope of the Church and the world”, he said he liked to speak of the saints “next door” – those people who express God’s love in little acts of kindness in their daily routine.

The vocation to love and holiness was not something reserved to the privileged few but was also for all those families that offer love, forgiveness and mercy when they see the need, and do so quietly, without great fanfare.

With his trademark humour, the Pontiff compared interfamilial relations to making a good cup of tea. “No one said it would be easy. It is like making tea: it is easy to bring the water to a boil, but a good cup of tea takes time and patience; it needs to brew!”

He also made a reference to Co Mayo-born priest Fr Patrick Peyton, who ministered in the US and spearheaded a hugely popular Family Rosary Crusade and coined the saying “the family that prays together, stays together”. Pope Francis elevated him to the status of Venerable last December, the first step on the way to sainthood.

Greeting Pope Francis when he joined the Festival of Families an hour into the event after his 90-minute meeting with clerical abuse and church abuse survivors, Cardinal Kevin Farrell said “Céad Míle Fáilte” on behalf of the thousands of assembled families in Croke Park from over 100 nations.

The highlight of the festival was a performance of Schubert’s “Ave Maria” by Italian tenor Andrea Bocelli in a duet with Irish soprano Celine Byrne, with performances by the High Hopes choir, Daniel O’Donnell and Riverdance.

Testimonies were heard from a Syrian refugee family as well as Irish couple Mary and Damien Richardson and their nine children.

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