On the eve of St Patrick’s Day 2016, Archbishop Richard Clarke and Archbishop Eamon Martin spent an hour in conversation with Tara Mills (BBC NI presenter) at the Marketplace Theatre in Armagh. The conversation would centre on what St Patrick meant to the two Archbishops.
Archbishop Richard addressed the large audience present and shared his belief that God does not “do labels” or segregate people.
And he believed that St Patrick was not into labelling people either.
During Lent Archbishop Richard had been reading again – Dietrich Bonhoeffer’s book “The Cost of Discipleship” which distinguishes between “cheap Grace” and “costly Grace”. If Christian discipleship is to mean anything it will cost us and be dangerous and difficult.
St Patrick personified how being a disciple costs - through the many sufferings he endured and persevered through, in his ministry and particularly as he extended the witness of the Christian church in Ireland.
Archbishop Eamon then spoke and reminded us of how St Patrick is remembered particularly by all the places and people who are named after him. Each year at this time Archbishop Eamon reads “St Patrick’s Confession” and his “Letter to Coroticus” which are the two main pieces of writing we have that give us an insight into Patrick’s character.
When he thinks of St Patrick – two words come to mind – Mercy and Mission. God’s call to be merciful to others as he has been merciful to us. Mercy then leads to mission. In his mission, Patrick went to the people on the margins, on the edge, and he challenges us not just to go to those we might be comfortable with or close to.
Then followed a conversation between the two Archbishops of Armagh and Tara Mills.
They discussed how St Patrick is “in the DNA” of both of their traditions. There should not be a competition or a rivalry between the two of them or their two churches. Indeed St Patrick is someone that all Christian traditions and churches can share together.
They also discussed the nature of the celebrations that take place on and around 17th March and how St Patrick is remembered.
We perhaps see “three strands” of celebration:
1. Civic festivities and parades.
2. Church celebrations and special services.
3. Social gatherings when family and friends come together.
There is a need to not exclude the spiritual and deeply Christian aspects of Patrick.
And not to be “too Irish” and over do some elements of celebration!
Thoughts then turned to the Refugee and migrant crisis. It was remembered that Patrick and his entourage were essentially migrants when they came to Ireland. The question was posed “how do we welcome refugees today” and “are we doing enough” to help them. We would do well to remember in times gone by how many Irish people left these shores and travelled to distant lands and indeed had a significant and positive influence in these countries.
Archbishop Eamon and Archbishop Richard also discussed what they termed “the commodification” of life and individuals.
That is to say – people are only really valued in financial and economic terms and what they bring to the market. People may only be interested in what brings them pleasure and gain. We must not de-humanise people. We should value each other as having intrinsic worth and being made in the image of God.
There was time for the audience to ask questions or provide comment. The event was well summed up by a lady who congratulated the Archbishops on how warmly and positively they had engaged with each other and the audience and how strong a message this gave to our community as we continue to learn to respect our different traditions.