St Trea's
Newbridge & Ballymaguigan

Homily of Archbishop Eamon Martin at the Memorial Mass for Cardinal Tomás Ó Fiaich

7 Nov 2023


Archbishop Martin: Cardinal Ó Fiaich believed in a shared Ireland where people of all religions and none would be at home


Homily of Archbishop Eamon Martin at the Memorial Mass for Cardinal Tomás Ó Fiaich in Saint Malachy’s Church, Armagh

Dear brothers and sisters, it is fitting in so many ways that we gather here in the Church of Saint Malachy, and on the Feast of Saint Malachy, to honour the memory of our late Cardinal Archbishop Tomás Ó Fiaich who was born on this day 100 years ago.  Earlier this afternoon, at the Cardinal’s homeplace in Cullyhanna, an 'Ulster Blue Circle' was unveiled to mark the spot where young Thomas James Fee, second son of the late Patrick and Annie Fee, was born exactly a century ago.
I mí seo na nAnama Naofa - agus muid ag bailiú anseo anocht, ba mhaith liom smaoineamh go bhfuil muid ceangailte le spiorad - ní hamháin le spiorad an Chairdinéail féin, ach le spiorad a theaghlaigh, a chomharsana agus a chairde a chuaigh romhainn sa chreideamh, agus - le cuidiú Thrócaire Dé – a chuaigh romhainn chuig na bhFlaithis.
We know that the late Cardinal had a great admiration and devotion to Saint Malachy, and the Cardinal was proud to select Malachy as his Confirmation name.  He and Saint Malachy had much in common - the only two Armagh men in eight centuries to be appointed as Archbishop of Armagh; both associated with this day, the 3rd November, and both of them dying suddenly in France.  On several occasions the Cardinal travelled to Troyes in France to visit Saint Malachy’s relics - an experience which he says moved him deeply.
Back in 1983 the late Cardinal gave a homily at Saint Malachy’s College, Belfast, in which he described the qualities of Saint Malachy which he most admired:
"He possessed great courage, and would never let opposition deflect him from his goals; it was a man of deep spirituality and prayerfulness, who lived simply, worked incessantly and always longed for the peace and self-denial of the monastery.”
Now perhaps apart from that last point, Cardinal Ó Fiaich could have been describing himself!  He, too, was a man of great courage, who never let opponents stop him from doing and achieving what he thought was right.  He, too, was a straightforward man of prayer, who lived totally for his vocation.  He too worked incessantly and perhaps it was his insistence on such a gruelling schedule that led to his early death while leading Armagh diocesan pilgrimage to Lourdes in May 1990.
Although I only met Cardinal Ó Fiaich a few times myself - as a seminarian and as a young priest in Derry - I had a sense that here was a humble man of kindness with a great friendly presence.
And, of course that is one of the reasons why Cardinal Ó Fiaich is still remembered with such great affection; his amazing scholarship is also still hugely respected, as well as his courageous leadership and unstinting pastoral care during what were very troubled times.
Bhi sé soiléir fosta, go raibh bród an domhain air as a áit dúchais, as a chontae Ard Mhacha, agus as Tír na hEireann - a theanga, a stair, a spórt agus a chultúr.
The Cardinal is of course remembered for the great pride he took in the language, history, sport and culture of his county and country.  And he communicated that sense of pride and communal identity to his beleaguered flock during very difficult times.
Perhaps because of this the Cardinal was misunderstood by some who unfairly labelled him as a partisan.  But to those who were prepared to look deeper, it was easy to see that his outlook was of harmony, reconciliation and peace between all Irish men and women, whatever their political aspirations.  His episcopal motto was 'Fratres in unum' (brothers and sisters together) and this desire to work for unity in diversity was very much at the heart of what he stood for.
The Cardinal’s passionate historical interest in the early Irish saints and missionaries who travelled to Europe, kindled in him a great sense of Ireland’s invaluable contribution to early European civilisation and inspired his firm belief that people of different nationalities, outlooks, and cultures, could be united through mutual respect, and by working always for peace and to foster and protect the innate human dignity of every person.  That was why he believed strongly in a shared Ireland as an island where people of all religions, and none, would be at home as brothers and sisters.
In that regard the opening prayer for today’s Feast of Saint Malachy is very appropriate:
Almighty God, who called your bishop Saint Malachy to work for the unity and growth of the Church throughout Ireland, grant that we may follow his example in striving for reconciliation and peace and become Christian both in name and in deed.
Cardinal Ó Fiaich remarked that despite the opposition which Saint Malachy often encountered in his life, "he comes across to us in the pages of Saint Bernard‘s work, as an affable, courteous, genial individual, whose skill as a peacemaker and mediator was often fruitfully employed among his fellow countrymen.” Once more he could be describing himself.
In recent weeks the Ó Fiaich Memorial Library and Archive has launched the Cardinal’s conflict archive - a collection of the many letters, meetings and statements he made during the Troubles.  What comes across is that the Cardinal was a deeply compassionate person, who completely rejected the use of violence for political means, and who had a strong sense of the pain of victims on all sides of the conflict here.  He made a point of visiting and maintaining contact with prisoners and their families.  He also wanted to play his part in building peace and mutual understanding and to this end he made huge efforts to build ecumenical relationships with his fellow Church leaders of other denominations.
Above all Cardinal Ó Fiaich was a good shepherd, a man of God who gave himself completely to his vocation and wore himself out with a gruelling schedule of commitments and connections.  It above all he loved his people.  Pope Francis often speaks about the importance of bishops getting to know their flock intimately - to ‘know the smell of the sheep’.  Cardinal Ó Fiaich certainly did that well, even though he is perhaps more remembered for the smell of the pipe!
People loved Cardinal Tomás - or Father Tom as he was more often and affectionately known.  When he died they said "Ní fheicfidh muid a leithéid choíche,” we will never see his like again.
Agus bhí an ceart acu sa mhéid sin.
Lá speisialta ab ea an tríú lá de mhí na Samhna 1923 - Lá speisialta i saol ard-deoise Ard Mhacha agus an oileáin seo. Ar an lá sin rugadh Tomás Ó Fiaich, nach maireann, duine de mhór-Éireannaigh an fichiu haois, scoláire, sagart agus easpag a dhéanfadh a rian ar an Eaglais agus ar an tsochaí in Éirinn agus san Eoraip.
Sé mo bharúil, leoga, gur beag duine, idir Ardeaspaig na hÉireann thar na blianta go dtí an lá atá inniu ann, a raibh gean agus meas chomh domhain sin orthu. Fíordhuine de na daoine a bhí ann.  Cardinal Ó Fiaich was certainly a true man of the people - as comfortable with children and young people as he was with professors, presidents and prime ministers.  Today in Cullyhanna we unveiled a blue circle to pay tribute to a man whose circle of friendship went far and wide to embrace people of every nation, language and creed.
No more fitting words to describe Cardinal Ó Fiaich as these words from the Entrance Antiphon for Mass on the Feast of Saint Malachy:
"I shall raise up for myself a faithful priest who will act in accord with my heart and my mind, says the Lord.”
Or these words, spoken by an old person from the Gaeltacht when he heard about the cardinal’s sudden death at the young age of 66, 'Nach maith do na bhflaitheas, eisean a bheith ann': 'Isn't it well for heaven that has him?'
Trusting in God’s mercy, we hope that from his place in heaven Cardinal Tomás is watching over us and guiding us still.
Go ndéana Dia Trócaire ar a anam dhílis. Amen.
Archbishop Eamon Martin is Archbishop of Armagh and Primate of All Ireland

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