Please see below Introduction and Homily by Bishop Denis Nulty at the 7pm Mass on January 1st 2017 in the Cathedral of the Assumption, Carlow. This was the third annual Peacekeepers Mass organised by the local Garda Siochana, the attendees included members of the Garda Siochana, their families, and representatives from all of the services who assist the Gardai or undertake a peacekeeping role in our community.
Solemnity of Mary, the Holy Mother of God – World Day of Peace 01.01.17
The Shepherds in Luke’s account become the first responders to the news of the birth of Christ. And not only are they responders but they become evangelisers.
It’s not enough simply to hear the good news, we have a duty to carry the message with us to others we may meet. The first responders in every parish and local community are you the Garda Síochána; I’m honoured tonight to once again celebrate this Mass for you, to thank you for your work and to encourage you in your endeavours as “the keepers of the peace” on this the evening of the 50th World Day of Peace.
Pope Francis this year entitles his message ‘Nonviolence: a style of Politics for Peace’. It once again, like many messages from Pope Francis, it flies in the face of the politically correct class. He tells us “the true battlefield, where violence and peace meet, is the human heart” for it is from there that evil intentions emerge and so we pray for God’s love, understanding and mercy …
2016 brought us to new places in the lexicon of violence and unrest – Mogadishu in Somalia; Kabul in Afghanistan; Quagadougou in Burkina Faso; Peshawar in Pakistan; Aleppo in Syria; Ankara in Turkey; Kashmir in India; Sadr City, Baghdad in Iraq; Aden in Yemen; Grand-Bassam on the Ivory Coast; Brussels and Zaventem in Belgium; Lahore in Pakistan; Fallujah in Iraq; Rafah in Egypt; Damascus in Syria; Mosul in Iraq; Barka and Tipo-Tipo in The Philippians; Beni in the Congo; Homs in Syria; Ramadi in Iraq; Nineveh in Syria; Istanbul in Turkey; Sirte in Libya; Orlando in the United States; Lake Chad in the Cameroon; Kuda in Nigeria; Al Mukalia in Yemen; Wardak in Afghanistan; Balad in Iraq; Benue in Nigeria; Nice in France; Nampala in Mali; Benghazi in Libya; Quetta in Pakistan; Kaduna State in Nigeria; Kirkuk in Iraq; Tikrit in Iraq; Kunduz in Afghanistan; Jizan in Saudi Arabia; Rakhine State in Myanmar; Ghashghar in Nigeria; Quetta in Pakistan; Mandera in Kenya; Bambari in the Central African Republic; Madagali in Nigeria; Cairo in Egypt; Al-Karak in Jordan; Berlin in Germany – as recently as yesterday there were two terrorist attacks in Baghdad where 26 people lost their lives and the Sinai Peninsula in Egypt where two people lost their lives and as 2017 was rung in we had the first atrocity of 2017 in Istanbul.
The named places, list off like a litany or recitation, somewhat similar to Matthews genealogy gospel, are the places of significant terrorist activity, places where peace needs to take hold and find root. Places like Mosul in Iraq; Aleppo in Syria and Ankara in Turkey appear far too frequently as does Nigeria, Somalia, Pakistan and Afghanistan. For us here in Carlow, it is just a headline on the 6-1 News; often it doesn’t even make the cut. Regarding the Syrian conflict, the blood bath that is Aleppo, Damascus, Homs, Nineveh to mention but a few – we often go to bed on the news of a ceasefire and by the time our alarm clock goes off the following morning, that ceasefire has been broken. The United Nations has referred to the Syrian conflict as the largest humanitarian crisis since World War II. Our Diocesan Reach Out this year focused precisely on the conflict in Syria and our accompanying of those suffering for whom a New Year is all about looking forward. As this New Year begins, the most recent cessation of conflict there seems to be tenuously holding and we pray in our Mass for Peace that it will lead to a lasting long-term solution in that fractured but most historical and beautiful part of our world.
Returning to what we can do as ‘peacemakers’ in Carlow many miles away from Aleppo, Baghdad or Cairo? Many of our Christmas Card greetings were simply themed: “Peace on Earth”. Peace is something that we as followers of Christ don’t have a complete monopoly on, but we have a clear duty to be people who spread peace, who turn the other cheek, who understand mercy, after our wonderful Jubilee Year and don’t stint in offering it to others. One of my cards carried a prayer written by a Jewish Rabbi, Rami Shapiro: “Enveloped in your light, may we be a beacon to those in search of light. Sheltered in your peace, may we offer shelter to those in need of peace. Entranced by your presence, may we be present to others.”
Luke’s gospel moves on the Christmas story somewhat. We have gone beyond the awe and wonder, the falling on the knees bit. It’s time to stand up and go back out telling others “all they had heard and seen”. The shepherds do what shepherds are expected to do, go back into the hills and the valleys, the ravines and the dikes and spread the message of peace and joy. Pope Francis, quoting his predecessor Emeritus Pope Benedict XVI who said too much violence, too much injustice can only be conquered by more love, more goodness. The too much is cancelled by the more! We are called to be generous people who live out of the ‘more’; let’s share that more with others, let’s be peacemakers.
I was intrigued in the early stages of the so-called violent gang feud that deeply infiltrates some parts of our capital city, Archbishop Diarmuid Martin called on mothers and grandmothers who see the madness of such violence and who in their strength of character can appeal to whatever humanity remains in the hearts of those involved. Every victim is some mother’s son. It’s interesting that this World Day of Peace always coincides always with the Feast of Mary, the Mother of God. She is the one who can infiltrate and soften the hardest and coldest of hearts, we plead to her to do just that as we seek to reimagine our approach to conflict using the non-violent prism. Violence doesn’t work, never worked and never will. Two World Wars later we are still struggling to learn that message. You, the Garda Síochána are the beacons in our community within Carlow and its hinterland who offer a more non-violent and less threatening approach. Some people suggest religion is the catalyst for many of the world’s conflicts. As Pope Francis said on his visit last September to the cradle of peace that is Assisi: “the name of God cannot be used to justify violence. Peace alone is holy. Peace alone is holy, not war!”. It’s interesting we mark the Feast of the Holy Name of Jesus, the day after tomorrow, on January 3rd.
We conclude with our Prayer for Peace from the recent Diocesan Reach Out project:
“Lord our God, Father of all humanity:
change the hearts of all peoples and their rulers,
so that peace may be established among the nations
on the foundations of justice, love and righteousness.
May the Spirit of Peace descend
upon the people of Syria and upon our world
Until all conflicts cease
And peace reigns on earth. Amen”.
 Pope Francis, Message for ‘World Day of Peace’, 1 January 2017, pg. 5.
 Christmas Card from Sr. Peggy Collins, Mercy Provincial Office, Naas.
 Lk. 2:20
 Pope Francis, Message for ‘World Day of Peace’, 1 January 2017, pg. 6.
 Martin, Diarmuid: ‘Statement on Violence in Dublin’, 09 February 2016.
 Pope Francis, ‘Address in Assisi’, 20 October 2016 / ibid pg. 9.
 Prayer composed by Caritas Staff in the Middle East, used for KANDLE Reach Out 2016.