This week marks the 25th Anniversary of the Good Friday Agreement, officially called the Belfast Agreement. It was signed on April 10th,1998 and brought an end to 30 years of sectarian violence known as ‘the Troubles’. The unrest had resulted in the deaths of over 3,600 people and left approximately 47,000 with life-changing injuries.
Many of us remember the excitement we felt and were swept up in a wave of optimism that, gone would be the scary days of fear of being caught in crossfire, bomb scares, roadblocks, burnt out buildings and ‘stop and search’. Life would be better, normal. I still remember buying a copy of the Agreement at the traffic lights on the Westlink for a pound, even though it was posted freely to every home. Everyone seemed good tempered on the roads that day.
Clergy and religious leaders were amongst the civic leaders who took huge personal risks to bring about peace. Clergy like Father Alex Reid and Archbishop Robin Eames acted as ‘Channels for Peace’ by having difficult conversations with people, these would have been impossible for government. Along with local and national politicians it appeared everyone was working for peace. It was a united effort to give a better future to the next generations.
More than 600,000 people have been born in Northern Ireland since the Good Friday Agreement was signed. They have enjoyed the benefits bestowed on them by those who went before, and yet, it is up to them to complete the vital work that is yet to be done. The principles of the Agreement were based on ‘partnership, equality and mutual respect’. As we reflect on how far we have travelled, we must fully appreciate the sacrifices that were made as we capture a vision for what lies ahead – ‘Unless the Lord build the house, those who build labour in vain.’ Psalm 127:1
Last week, Archbishop Eamon Martin stressed, ‘As divided communities, and churches, we have not yet substantially reflected openly and honestly on the hurts and grave wrongs of the past — not only the relatively recent past conflict, but also the deeper generational wrongs and traumas that lie underneath, unaddressed, and in a sinister way continuing to drive much of the sectarianism that we see today’. The Good Friday Agreement was not the end but the beginning of the end that still needs worked on. ‘The work of reconciliation is compulsory for Christians’, states the archbishop. There is no point saying forget the painful past when some are stuck in those days as their present. No Peace Process can move forward by leaving people behind.
There have been many challenges since the Good Friday Agreement and sometimes it seemed that there could be a return to ‘the Troubles’ but, ‘What does the Lord require of you but to do justice, and to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God.’ Micah 6:8
We still need to be in the words of St. Francis of Assisi, ‘instruments of your peace, where there is hatred, let us sow love; where there is injury, pardon; and where there is doubt, faith.