Homily of Bishop Kevin for World Day of Peace 2018

World Day of Peace – 1st January 2018

Homily of Bishop Kevin at the Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception, Sligo

We come together this morning on the Solemnity of Mary the Mother of God, to give thanks for the blessings we have received in this past year and to ask God’s blessings in the year ahead. When we pray the Hail Mary we use the words of Mary’s cousin Elizabeth, “hail full of grace”. Through the working if the Holy Spirit, Mary knew what it meant to be full of God’s gift; and that is what the word grace means – the free gift of God.

Each one of us has also been touched in some unique way by the grace of God in this past year, because through Jesus Christ, God has made us his sons and daughters. This is a time to look back to become aware of that giftedness and to give thanks. There may be some things that strike us very personally, such as the return to health after a time of illness, the birth of a new grandchild, or perhaps a new job. There are other things for which all of us here can give thanks, but which we might be inclined to take for granted:
• the gift of life itself; simply to be alive
• a land where we can live in peace
• the gift of faith and the freedom to profess it

One of the best ways of giving thanks for what we have received is to use our gifts wisely and generously, in the service of God and one another. How can we give real expression in the year ahead to all the material and spiritual gifts that we have received? I think it is appropriate to acknowledge the various ways in which so many of you have used your gifts in the past year in our own city and in our own Diocese, including those who have a particular responsibility for the common good, as public officials, in providing public services and in contributing to the development of a stable and peaceful society.

This Feast Day of Mary, the first day of the New Year is celebrated as the World Peace Day. It is a very appropriate day, not just because it is the beginning of a New Year in the civil calendar, but because Mary is the one who gives birth to the Prince of Peace. On a day when we continue to celebrate God’s initiative to restore right relationship with us, his people, it is appropriate that we are invited by Pope Francis to consider how we in our turn can contribute to bringing about right relationship with one another on this earth which God has given us to be our common home.

Sometimes it seems that there is very little we can do to bring about world peace. What can I do about Korea, or Syria? What can I do to ease the tensions in Iran or even in Spain? It is true that these things depend on sovereign governments, but governments are more likely to achieve the common good when they are supported, encouraged, and sometimes also actively pushed by their citizens to do so.

This year, however, Pope Francis has chosen for his World Peace Day message a subject which concerns us all and in relation to which all of us can make a real contribution. “Migrants and refugees: men and women in search of peace”.

Migration is as old as the human race. People have always set out on journeys in the hope of a better, safer or more secure future. The blessing, which forms the heart of the first reading today, was to be given by Aaron the priest to the people of Israel while they were migrants in the wilderness, on their way to the Promised Land. 
“The LORD bless you and keep you;
the LORD make his face shine on you and be gracious to you;
the LORD turn his face toward you and give you peace.”

It conveys an image of God as someone who walks with us on our journeys; a God who welcomes us at the journey’s end.

Peace, of course, is not merely the absence of war, it is the sense of well-being and wholeness that comes from living, as we do, in a country where we feel safe, where we are respected for who we are and where we are free to profess our faith. Ireland is not perfect by any means, but we do have very solid ground in which to build.

It is interesting that Pope Francis puts migrants and refugees together. They are not exactly the same. People migrate for all kinds of reasons. Some migrate in search of work or a better standard of living for themselves and their families. It is a reasonable thing to do and Irish people have done it for years, making an enormous contribution to the countries where they have settled. Refugees are migrants who have left their own country to escape from war, or from persecution on the grounds of race, religious or political beliefs, or membership of a particular social group. There are also millions of internally displaced people who suffer enormously but who would not be recognised by the United Nations as refugees.

Pope Francis is well aware of the differences between groups of migrants, but he also know that the one thing they have in common is that, when they migrate, they are all vulnerable to exploitation and isolation because they lack the strength that comes from family and neighbour and from a language and culture which is their own. Pope Francis asks us to consider what we can do under four headings:
• to welcome migrants and refugees
• to protect them
• to promote them (by allowing them the same opportunities as Irish people)
• to help them integrate into society

In recent months the Section for Migrants and Emigrants, which Pope Francis himself head-up at the Vatican, has identified twenty action points which they believe to be essential to the well-being of migrants and refugees. Let me share just some of these with you:

  • Governments need to work together to create safe routes for legal migration, which help to ensure that peoples lives are not put in danger and that they are not trafficked. 
    • Refugees should never be returned to countries which are unsafe for them
    • The rescue and protection of refugee Children who have become separated from their parents must be prioritised.
    • Schools can make an enormous difference when it comes to making children feel welcome and safe.
    • Public authorities in the country of arrival can make life a lot easier by ensuring that public information is available in at least the most common languages of migrants. 
    • Public authorities need to appropriately involve local communities in the welcoming and integration of asylum seekers
    • Employers need to ensure that migrant workers are paid a just wage and not exploited because they are vulnerable
    • Refugees need to be facilitated as quickly as possible in establishing a way of life which is consistent with the needs of family and which allows them to develop and use and develop their skills and to earn a living for themselves

Progress in dealing with applications for asylum is still painfully slow here in Ireland and it is simply not possible for people to live any kind of normal family life in direct provision. This needs to change. I am happy to say that the Diocese has been able, with the help of Diversity Sligo and St. Michaels Family Life Centre, to provide an opportunity for families from Globe House to have access to a kitchen where they can cook and share a meal together, since this possibility is not available to them in direct provision.

Each one of us, of course, if we can do nothing else, can extend the same basic politeness and warmth towards migrants and refugees, in the streets and in the shops, as we would to one another.

I am delighted that we have so many migrant families in our Churches and so many migrant children in our schools, here in the Diocese. As Mary the mother of Jesus knew only too well, a new arrival poses a challenge as well offering the hope of new beginnings. The arrival of our migrants and refugees inevitably challenges us in various ways, but I believe we are all the better for it. I pray that they will feel always welcome and safe as long as they are here among us. Indeed I can think of no better pray for them than the blessing prayer of Aaron over the Hebrew refugees:
The LORD bless you and keep you;
the LORD make his face shine on you and be gracious to you;
the LORD turn his face toward you and give you peace