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church service Organisers of NI partition service regret 'polarised commentary' after Irish president declines invite

Church leaders say service was to shine a light on 'societal wounds'

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President Michael D Higgins Photo: Maxwells/PA Wire

President Michael D Higgins Photo: Maxwells/PA Wire

President Michael D Higgins Photo: Maxwells/PA Wire

The Church leaders behind the Armagh service to mark the centenary of the partition of Ireland and the creation of Northern Ireland, which President Michael D. Higgins has said he will not attend, have said they are saddened by the “polarised public commentary” around the event.

In a joint statement on Friday, the Church Leaders Group said the tone of the public debate around their ‘Service of Reflection and Hope’ had, “shone a light on the societal wounds we wish to reflect on in this service”.

Earlier this month, President Higgins faced criticism for declining to attend the event, which Queen Elizabeth was also expected to attend. He later said he was declining because it had become “politicised”. An opinion poll last week found 81pc of Irish people supported his decision.

Today, the group, which comprises the Church of Ireland and Roman Catholic Archbishops of Armagh, the Moderator of the Presbyterian Church, the President of the Methodist Church and the President of the Irish Council of Churches, said they were conscious from the outset that the centenaries would “highlight painful moments from our past which continue to impact relationships in our present”.

“We felt a responsibility as Christian leaders to explore the opportunity to deepen the work of reconciliation in a context of respectful dialogue. We cannot undo the past, but we can learn from it, and we all have a responsibility to contribute to the healing of relationships from our different perspectives,” they said.

The Church leaders stressed that their wish is to gather in prayer for the healing of relationships, and to demonstrate a renewed commitment to working together for peace, reconciliation and the common good.

They said the service would be underpinned by a Christian vision of reconciliation, “which calls us to acknowledge the pain of the past, confess our own failings and commit ourselves to peace”.

Acknowledging that not everyone will feel able to participate in the service, they invited as many people as possible to join them in prayer on the day of the service, October 21, and they said they hoped it would be “a positive and honest contribution, through faith, to peace and healing in this land.”

In their statement, the group representing the main Christian Churches, clarified the context and original vision for the service. They recalled their New Year’s statement which acknowledged that while for some the centenary of the formation of Northern Ireland was a cause for celebration, for others the centenary of the partition of the island evoked feelings of loss and separation.

They restated that the service in St Patrick’s Cathedral in Armagh is an initiative of the Church Leaders’ Group, who have been wholly responsible for its planning, organisation and design and that it does not form part of any other programme of events.

“As Church Leaders, people of faith, we stand united at this crossroads looking forward, by the grace of God, to a better and brighter future,” they said.

"We recognise the need to better respect our differences, but we must learn ‘to differ well’ and be prepared to listen and show charity to those with different views and aspirations.”

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