Archbishop Eamon Martin of Armagh has joined with leaders of other Christian traditions in Ireland in appealing for “prayerful support” from congregations for a service to mark the centenary of partition after it provoked controversy.
The ceremony is due to be held in Armagh, October 21, and was due to be attended by Britain’s Queen Elizabeth II and President Michael D. Higgins.
However, President Higgins pulled out of the event claiming that it had been “politicised”.
In a joint statement the Church Leaders’ Group – which brings together the Catholic, Anglican, Methodist and Presbyterian traditions – urged what they describe as “prayerful support” for their service of reflection and hope.
“As Church leaders we have been saddened by the polarised public commentary around our service of reflection and hope.
“The tone of the public debate has shone a light on the societal wounds we wish to reflect on in this service.”
“We wish primarily to gather in prayer for healing of relationships, and in doing so, to demonstrate a renewed commitment to working together for peace, reconciliation and the common good,” the statement said.
The decision of President Higgins to reject the invitation was welcomed in the Irish Republic with a newspaper poll saying some 81% of people said he was right not to mark the centenary of the creation of Northern Ireland.
However, unionist leaders in the north criticised the move saying it lacked an appreciation of their identity.
The Church leaders’ statement added that: “we of course understand that not everyone will feel able to participate with us in this service, but for those who do, particularly in our local churches across this island, we wish to clarify in this statement the context and original vision for the service, and invite people to join with us in prayer and reflection.”
Britain’s Queen Elizabeth II is still expected to attend the ecumenical ceremony. However, the Irish Government has not decided if it will be represented following the president’s decision.