The future leader of the Catholic Church in Ireland, Derry-born priest Eamon Martin, says much remains to be done to build a lasting peace in the North.
Archbishop Martin of Armagh, who will succeed Cardinal Seán Brady as Catholic Primate of All Ireland, was delivering the annual St Oliver Plunkett address in west Belfast on Sunday as part of Féile an Phobail celebrations.
He said: “Tensions and violence on the streets remind us that there’s still a lot to be done in building peace and shaping the future. We know that our community remains polarised and divided in many ways. We are only ‘tiptoeing’ towards a shared and reconciled future.”
Archbishop Martin said tensions remained about how to tackle sectarianism and there were pastoral problems, too, about reaching out to ex-combatants at the same time as fostering healing for victims.
He added: “Many victims of the Troubles still don’t know the full circumstances that led to the death or serious injury of their loved one. Few have been able to tell their stories, either as individuals or communities - there is a tendency to think ‘don’t go there’, leave the past behind, or, indeed, to engage in blaming and revisionism, creating a hierarchy of victimhood and not recognising the legitimacy of truth within different accounts.
“We are still a long way away from any shared story or understanding of the past. Overall, there is much to be done in addressing the detrimental impact of the Troubles on the image of Northern Ireland.
“We all have a responsibility to help avoid a relapse into violence especially in the most deprived areas across our communities where residents feel they have won little from the peace - sadly many of these areas are also those which suffered greatest during the conflict.”
Archbishop Martin also paid tribute to the role of the clergy during the Troubles.
“During the Troubles, priests sometimes felt caught in the middle, at times used and attacked by all sides, but they continued to visit homes, hospitals and prisons, administer the sacraments; their pastoral presence in the public square helped preserve normality in the midst of potential chaos.
“The priest or minister was often the person of hope, and consolation – for me, ministering as a priest in Derry at this time gave me a strong sense of my own vocation.”
The Archbishop said he firmly believed that the churches could still play a significant role in helping society to build bridges and re-define itself.