(Vatican Radio) The leaders of Ireland’s Catholic and Protestant churches have called for an end to all paramilitary attacks in Northern Ireland, saying that violence continues to negatively impact the lives and wellbeing of children and young people.
Church leaders from several denominations made the appeal in a statement to commemorate Universal Children’s Day, instituted by the United Nations and held annually on 20 November.
Listen to Devin Watkins’ report:
Signers of the statement include Catholic Archbishop Eamon Martin of Armagh; the Church of Ireland’s Archbishop of Armagh, Richard Clarke; the President of the Methodist Church in Ireland, Rev Dr Laurence Graham; the President of the Irish Council of Churches, Bishop John McDowell; and, the Moderator of the Presbyterian Church of Ireland, Rt Rev Dr Noble McNeely.
Legacy of violent conflict
In the document, church leaders lament the continued violence to which children are exposed, “either as victims of direct attacks, or as members of families subjected to attacks or intimidation.”
They say the Peace Process – resulting in the Good Friday Agreement signed nearly 20 years ago – was meant to protect young people “from the violence that blighted the lives of previous generations.”
The Northern Ireland conflict, also known as “The Troubles”, began in the late 1960’s and lasted until the Belfast or Good Friday Agreement was signed on 10 April 1998.
“We need to ask ourselves whether the legacy of violent conflict here has caused us to feel powerless to challenge the culture that supports the continuation of this type of violence,” the statement reads.
Initiatives for children's wellbeing
Calling on all members of society to make communities “safe and welcoming places”, Ireland’s religious leaders applaud the many people “working to give our young people better opportunities and help those at risk make better choices”.
These include youth and sports clubs, churches, and educators, they say.
Funding cuts, however, have left a cloud of uncertainty hanging over these important initiatives.
“In this context, it is more important than ever,” they write, “that we seek to lend our support to initiatives that offer young people the chance to achieve their full potential and challenge those who seek to trap them in never-ending cycles of violence.”