The people of Ireland are well aware that we can never take peace for granted. We must continue work for peace, to pray for peace and to make sacrifices for peace.
The scenes from Ukraine in recent days are distressing and frightening. They remind us how fragile peace in the world is. To think that only days ago the people of that country were getting on with their lives, making plans for their families, their businesses, their education, and now suddenly their lives, homes and futures are under threat. One of the awful things about war is the way that it suddenly destroys everything in its path. It disrupts normal life and overnight introduces death, destruction, violence, fear, sorrow and grief.
Watching our screens from Ireland we feel powerless to help. Our hearts and our prayers go out to the people of Ukraine who didn’t ask for this war, and who simply wanted to be left to get on with their lives, their jobs and with bringing up their families. Now they must hide, shelter, and even run for safety to protect themselves and their children.
We can never take peace for granted. We must always work for peace, pray for peace and make sacrifices for peace. All of us have the capacity to build peace by our words, our actions and our attitudes to others. We choose to sow peace or conflict, love or hate, to build up, or to tear down, to heal or to hurt, to forgive or to resent, to soothe or to inflame.
The current situation in Ukraine appears to be motivated at least partly by abuse of power and by the desire to control and dominate. It is alarming to think that despite the lessons learned last century in Europe about the horrors of war, that our continent could so easily be plunged back into chaos and uncertainty.
Jesus said to his disciples:
“Peace I leave you, my own peace I give you, a peace that the world cannot give, that is my gift to you”.
During the Covid-19 pandemic the Handshake Sign of Peace at Mass was suspended. But our obligation as Christians to offer each other the peace of Christ never goes away. The expression of peace follows the greeting of the priest who says, “The peace of the Lord be with you always”.
Today, I invite the people of Ireland to reflect on those words every day during the forthcoming season of Lent and in doing so to pledge that we will never take leave for granted but instead we will pray for peace, work for peace and make sacrifices for peace. I suggest that after these words are prayed at every Mass during Lent, we might pause for a brief moment to pray that the peace of the Lord will be with the people of Ukraine and guide the efforts of all those who are working to restore peace there, and in other countries across the world where war and violence are raging.
Pope Francis has asked that Catholics all over the world will pray and fast for peace on Wednesday next, Ash Wednesday. I encourage you to keep the Ash Wednesday fast, to take just one main meal on Wednesday and two small snacks; to abstain from meat and to consider also abstaining from alcohol. Make some extra sacrifice this Lent and offer it up for peace in Ukraine.
We pray for the people of Ukraine,
for all those suffering or afraid,
that you will be close to them and protect them.
We pray for world leaders,
for compassion, strength and wisdom to guide their choices.
We pray for the world
that in this moment of crisis,
we may reach out in solidarity
to our brothers and sisters in need.
May we walk in your ways
so that peace and justice
become a reality for the people of Ukraine
and for all the world.
- Archbishop Eamon Martin is Archbishop of Armagh, Primate of All Ireland and President of the Irish Catholic Bishops’ Conference.