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ROME – In his Regina Coeli address the day after Easter, Pope Francis commemorated the 25th anniversary of the Good Friday agreement, praying that the deal which brought decades of violence to an end would continue to inspire peace.
Speaking to faithful gathered in St. Peter’s Square for his April 10 address, the pope said that, “Today marks the 25th anniversary of the so-called Good Friday agreement of Belfast, which put an end to the violence which for decades troubled Northern Ireland. “
“With a grateful spirit, I ask the God of peace that what happened in that historic passage can be consolidated for the benefit of all men and women on the island of Ireland,” he said, and wished the world a happy Easter.
Signed on April 10, 1988, the Good Friday Agreement ended Northern Ireland’s decades-long violent conflict known as “The Troubles,” which led to the deaths of more than 3,500 people, most of whom were civilians, and cemented sectarian divisions between Catholics and Protestants.
Political implications of the agreement included the Irish government’s willingness to renounce its constitutional claims to Northern Ireland.
Among other things, the deal also established power-sharing government between parties representing both the majority Protestant population and minority Catholic population, and it removed border security between Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland. The deal also led to the eventual decommissioning of the weapons of the Irish Republican Army and Protestant paramilitary organizations.
Yet while most of the violence has ended, tensions remain 25 years later, with Northern Ireland’s power-sharing government facing ongoing complications, especially in the wake of the United Kingdom leaving the European Union.
United States President Joe Biden is set to visit Belfast Tuesday to commemorate the 25th anniversary of the Good Friday Agreement, yet as the visit approaches police in Northern Ireland have said they interrupted a bomb plot by the New IRA, a republican paramilitary group, in Derry.
A major security operation is now underway ahead of Biden’s visit, which will also take him to Dublin to meet with Irish premier Leo Varadkar and Irish president Michael Higgins.
In his address Monday, Pope Francis, who appeared energetic and recovered after being discharged from the hospital a week ago following a bout of bronchitis, focused on the decision of the women in the day’s Gospel reading to run to the other disciples to share the news of Jesus’ resurrection after finding his tomb empty.
“Like all the disciples, they too were suffering because of the way the story of Jesus seemed to have ended; but, unlike the others, they do not stay at home paralyzed by sadness and fear,” he said, saying, “they overcome their fears and their anguish. This is the way to find the Risen One.”
He noted that the women ran “with fear and great joy” to tell the other disciples what they saw, and that as they were on the way, “Jesus comes towards them.”
“Jesus encounters them while they are going to announce him. This is beautiful: when we proclaim the Lord, the Lord comes to us,” he said, saying, “we encounter Jesus by witnessing him.”
To illustrate the point, Francis used the example of when someone receives good news, like the birth of a child, noting that one of the first things the parents do is joyfully share the news with friends. By continuing to tell people the good news, “we also repeat it to ourselves and somehow make it come alive again for us.”
“If this happens for good news, it happens infinitely more for Jesus, who is not only good news, nor even the best news of life, but life itself,” he said, saying every time the good news of Easter is shared, “not by propaganda or proselytizing, but with respect and love, as the most beautiful gift to share, as the secret of joy, then Jesus dwells in us even more.”
“When one encounters Jesus, no obstacle can prevent us from proclaiming him. If instead we keep his joy for ourselves, perhaps it is because we have not yet truly encountered him,” he said, and challenged believers to ask themselves about their own witness, and whether they would be seen as someone who is “serene, happy, good” because they know Jesus.
He closed his address asking the Virgin Mary to “help us be joyful proclaimers of the Gospel,” like the women at the tomb.
Follow Elise Ann Allen on Twitter: @eliseannallen