With the Good Friday/Belfast Agreement having turned 25 in April of this year, the Church Leaders Group (Ireland) – the leaders of the Church of Ireland, the Methodist and Presbyterian Churches in Ireland, the Roman Catholic Church, and Irish Council of Churches – are in Rome today (28 September), to take part in a special seminar to mark the Agreement’s 25th anniversary, where they will share their personal reflections on this milestone anniversary.
Organised jointly by the British and Irish ambassadors to the Holy See, the UK and Ireland’s official representatives to the Vatican City State, the Church Leaders have been invited to take part following a similar event that the embassies hosted at the time of the 20th anniversary in 2018. The seminar, which takes place in the Pontifical Irish College, will also explore the role that churches and faith–based leaders play in peace–making and reconciliation more broadly.
The two–day visit begins this morning with a joint church service that will be led by the five Church Leaders, and will take place at the Chiesa Evangelica Valdese, the Waldensian Evangelical Church in Rome’s Piazza Cavour. Based on resources that the Church Leaders developed for congregations and parishes as they reflected on the 25th anniversary of the Agreement in April, the service will be attended by those taking part in the seminar, the two ambassadors and members of the wider diplomatic corps, along with the wider Christian community in the city.
Speaking from Rome in a joint statement, the Church Leaders said, “We would like to thank the British and Irish ambassadors to the Holy See for their kind invitation for us to take part in this important event. It is a welcome opportunity to spend time, not only reflecting on where we have come from over the past 25 years, but also looking to the future, highlighting our common allegiance to Jesus as Lord, and the responsibility of all Christians to work for peace, wherever they may be. We are thankful for all who worked to ensure that the Belfast/Good Friday Agreement could come into place. We are mindful too of all who suffered, and continue to suffer, as a result of needless violence over the decades.
“As individual Christians, and as leaders in our respective Christian traditions, we are committed to working towards a vision of an island of restored relationships, where all can flourish and fully participate in our common life. This is our shared commitment to reconciliation and peacebuilding on the island of Ireland. While we continue to recognise the obvious challenges that there are, we want to acknowledge once more that the important and vital work of peace is still an unfinished work, a work that we are all committed to actively pursuing for the common good, for all the people of Ireland, north and south.”
The Church Leaders continued, “We welcome the opportunity this special seminar affords us to share our collective thoughts and personal reflections at such an influential gathering, as it comes at a time when we have great concern for the state of our fragile peace. As we remark in the foreword to this morning’s Order of Service, ‘We must remember that the signing of the Agreement was not the end of the journey to peace in Northern Ireland. It simply marked the first faltering steps down a very long road to a new, brighter, and shared future…shaped by tolerance and respect for our differences, and a recognition of the need for greater understanding and reconciliation’.
“The Agreement’s principles were based on ‘partnership, equality and mutual respect’ and developing relationships North/South, East/West and within Northern Ireland itself. As we also state in the foreword ‘…reflect[ing] on how far we have travelled, we must fully appreciate the sacrifices that were made as we capture a vision for what lies ahead. In the journey from Good Friday to Easter, from death to new life, as people of faith we believe that love is stronger than hate and that the light of hope shines brightly in the darkness…’”
The Church Leaders concluded by saying, “We are thankful to God, that the Agreement that was negotiated a quarter of a century ago, while not perfect, transformed the conflict in Northern Ireland, resulting in countless lives being saved. It is our prayer that today’s seminar, and our participation along with others, will contribute to a wider understanding of where we have come from and the hope that we have for the future, when communities agree to come together. Once again we thank the British and Irish ambassadors for affording us this opportunity.”
Speaking at today’s seminar will be Rt Rev Andrew Forster, President of the Irish Council of Churches, Most Rev Eamon Martin Roman, Catholic Archbishop of Armagh and Primate of all Ireland, Most Rev John McDowell, Church of Ireland Archbishop of Armagh and Primate of all Ireland, Rt Rev Dr Sam Mawhinney, Moderator of the Presbyterian Church in Ireland and Rev David Turtle, President of the Methodist Church in Ireland. Also in attendance are the Co–Secretaries of the Church Leaders’ Group (Ireland) Rev Trevor Gribben, Clerk of the General Assembly and General Secretary of the Presbyterian Church in Ireland and Rev Dr Heather Morris, General Secretary of the Methodist Church in Ireland.
Before returning tomorrow, Friday, the Church Leaders will have a number of additional meetings with Christian organisations and lunch with the British and Irish Ambassadors to the Holy See.