ARMAGH, Northern Ireland, MAY 9, 2007 (Zenit.org).- The Irish must cultivate a culture of welcome to honor the dignity and gifts of immigrants, says the auxiliary bishop of Armagh.
Bishop Gerard Clifford made these comments in a homily on Irish immigration during the annual Mass at Arbour Hill cemetery for those who died in 1916 for Irish independence.
Bishop Clifford said, “Ninety-one years later we look back at the ideals of those men and women who fought for Irish freedom, the sacrifices they made, their hopes for the future, the legacy that they have left to us and we ask some pertinent questions about the society of our time and how it measures up to those ideals.”
Decades ago, “housing in certain areas was among the worst in Europe, unemployment was high and emigration to England and the United States was the only alternative to destitution for many people,” the bishop explained.
He continued: “Ireland has, for generations, been familiar with the whole concept of emigration. Gaelic literature is full of stories of Irish emigrants heading out into an uncertain future.”
Bishop Clifford said: “Ireland of 2007 presents a very different picture. We currently have a confident economy, low unemployment and a good standard of living for many. Today we have a mainly confident and educated people.
“Indeed, Ireland, as we well know, has had an unprecedented influx of people to our country. There are some 420,000 new migrants to Ireland at present making up 10% of our total population.
“In the Church we all have an indispensable part to play in that welcome.”
The bishop recalled the words of Benedict XVI in October, during the Irish bishops’ five-yearly visit to Rome: “After centuries of emigration, which involved the pain of separation for so many families, you’re experiencing for the first time, a wave of immigration. Traditional Irish hospitality is finding unexpected new outlets.”
Bishop Clifford said that, along with many state provided services, “the bishops’ commission for emigrants and migrants, together with numerous voluntary groups within the various Churches and communities, are making their own distinctive contribution.”
He added: “I believe that Ireland is making its own distinct efforts to address this new situation. At many levels across the country there are positive efforts to cultivate a culture of welcome.
“There are still bridges to cross. We are challenged to raise people’s sights to what is ultimately fulfilling, recognizing the giftedness and uniqueness of everyone.”