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Church Leaders’ 2024 New Year Message

In his autobiography, Long Walk to Freedom, the late Nelson Mandela wrote: ‘No one is born hating another person because of the colour of his skin, or his background, or his religion. People must learn to hate, and if they can learn to hate, they can be taught to love, for love comes more naturally to the human heart than its opposite.’

If we, as Church Leaders in Ireland, along with our predecessors, were to write a book, it might have a title similar to the one referenced above.  We would though probably change the word ‘Freedom’ to ‘Peace’. It has been a ‘Long Walk to Peace’ in this island and between its peoples. During 2023 we reflected on the twenty–five years which have passed since the signing of the Belfast/Good Friday Agreement. It has been a long walk, which on occasion picked up pace, at other times was reduced to a crawl, and is still ongoing. Since the signing of the Agreement in 1998 a whole generation has now come and gone and much has changed in our world on a global scale as well as at a local level but very few people living in these islands would want to return to the past. We therefore need to stay clearly focused on the future, with a renewed commitment to the process of building relationships of mutual respect and trust. Although we have travelled a long way, there is still some distance to go in our journey to peace and much work remains to be done.

As we acknowledged in our St Patrick’s Day Statement back in 2021, as Christian churches we have often been captive churches; not captive to the Word of God, but to the idols of state and nation. The shackles of our troubled and difficult past have restrained and hindered us. Relationships have been damaged. Yet we also need to appreciate that healing takes time. Nelson Mandela was right in his observation that people are not born hating others, it is something which they learn. We need therefore to ensure that we teach our children to love, respect and care for one another so that they learn that love is stronger than hate, good overcomes evil and light scatters the darkness.

We enter a new year in which war, violence and conflict now overshadow so many parts of our world. With our experiences here in this land, may we encourage and support others to take those first steps down the road to peace, to walk in the way of reconciliation, to seek to heal and not hurt.

Our Lord Jesus Christ’s life and ministry were based on faith, hope and love. As we try to faithfully follow in the steps of the Master, seeking to love God and our neighbour, may the words of St Paul encourage us to work more closely together for a better future: ‘So then let us pursue the things that make for peace and the building up of one another’ (Romans 14:19). Let us therefore continue to build relationships, break down barriers, and work for a sustainable and lasting peace and as ambassadors of Christ’s message of reconciliation may we model a better way of living and loving now and in the years to come.

May you know God’s blessing and peace throughout 2024.

Most Rev Eamon Martin
Roman Catholic Archbishop of Armagh & Primate of All Ireland

Most Rev John McDowell
Church of Ireland Archbishop of Armagh & Primate of All Ireland

Rt Rev Dr Sam Mawhinney
Moderator of the General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church in Ireland

Rev David Turtle
President of the Methodist Church in Ireland

Rt Rev Andrew Forster
President of the Irish Council of Churches

The Church Leaders Group comprises the Church of Ireland and Roman Catholic Primates of All Ireland, the Moderator of the General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church in Ireland, the President of the Methodist Church in Ireland, and the President of the Irish Council of Churches.


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