"We have witnessed murder, people being attacked in and even drive from their homes, children being intimidated on their way to school, rioting in the streets, and churches being burned to the ground," the bishops state.

On Monday night, more than 100 people threw stones and bottles at each other in a confrontation in northern Belfast where Protestant and Catholic neighborhoods meet. Last week, Belfast suffered its worst riots in three years, when hundreds of men and teen-agers threw stones and bottles at each other and at police in the Ardoyne district, a Catholic enclave surrounded by similarly hard-line Protestant neighborhoods.

The attackers were from both sides of the divide. Police returned fire with plastic bullets. Thirty-nine police were injured.

The bishops in their statement say that they "fully understand the fear under which so many people are living at the present time." Hence, they "appeal for neighbor to reassure neighbor, especially where families feel threatened."

They end their brief statement calling "for prayers to be offered in our churches for peace throughout the entire community, and for families who are suffering so much."