DUBLIN ( - Church leaders in Britain and Ireland this weekend welcomed the historic peace deal signed in Belfast between the two governments and loyalist and republican groups engaged in multi-party peace talks.

      The Catholic Primate of All Ireland, Archbishop Sean Brady of Armagh, Northern Ireland, said Easter was a time of victory over death, and he called for prayers that remaining difficulties would be overcome. The head of the Catholic Church in England and Wales, Cardinal Basil Hume of Westminster, said a great deal of thanks was owed to the British and Irish prime ministers -- Tony Blair and Bertie Ahern, respectively -- talks chairman former US Senator George Mitchell, and the leaders of all the political parties in Northern Ireland. Cardinal Hume said, "We can only hope and pray that goodwill will prevail on all sides and that the people of Northern Ireland will be able to look forward to a future when violence will be outlawed and peace will always prevail."

      The Church of Ireland (Anglican) Archbishop of Dublin, Dr. Walton Empey, said the people of Northern Ireland had had enough Good Fridays of a non-sacred kind, but today was more like Easter Sunday, with all the confusion that accompanied the Resurrection. The Convenor of the Presbyterian Church in Ireland, George McCullagh, said the deal should be given a fair chance and that apparently bad decisions would ultimately be for the good of all the people of the island of Ireland.

      Pope John Paul II offered a prayer of thanksgiving for the peace agreement in Northern Ireland.

      After leading the faithful in the Regina Coeli at his summer residence at Castel Gandalfo-- where he is spending a few days of rest after the heavy schedule of Holy Week and Easter-- the Pope said: "I want to invite you to give thanks for God for the positive results that have been reached these past few days in Northern Ireland."

      Although many details remain to be settled, the signing of the peace agreement marks a historic step in a conflict that has continued for nearly 30 years, and cost at least 3,000 deaths. The Holy Father commented that the agreement "allows us to look to the future with great confidence" for the people of a region "which has been suffering for a long time."

      The Pope concluded his remarks with by saying, "Let us pray to the Lord that each of us, listening to his own conscience, will have the courage to make responsible and concrete gestures that will allow all of us to walk together on the path of peace, putting aside all that might reintroduce hatred and violence."

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April 15, 1998 volume 9, no. 73         DAILY CATHOLIC