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From Africa to Armagh, church leader makes powerful plea for forgiveness

Written by on October 21, 2021

In the city with two cathedrals of St Patrick, they were missing two heads of state.

The Queen had “reluctantly accepted” the advice of her doctors and cancelled her visit to Northern Ireland.

Ireland’s president had already declined his invitation to the service in Armagh, the island’s ecclesiastical capital.

St Patrick's Cathedral in Armagh
Image: St Patrick’s Cathedral in Armagh

Michael D Higgins said the event marking the partition of the island 100 years ago was not politically neutral.

But school children lining the route to welcome Prime Minister Boris Johnson and Irish Foreign Minister Simon Coveney offered hope for the future.

Victims of past violence led prayers during the ecumenical service before a new generation shared their aspirations.

Lucy Addis, a pupil at Royal School Armagh, said: “My generation has only ever known peace.

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“We all aspire to learn more about our cultures in order to form harmonious friendships that will last for the next 100 years and beyond.”

Ireland’s first African-born church leader delivered the sermon, urging the congregation to follow St Patrick’s example and forgive.

Rev Dr Sahr Yambasu, president of The Methodist Church in Ireland, said: “Grace alone can set free the people of this island from enslavement by the past.

“The result of the outworking of grace is forgiveness and forgiveness is releasing others and oneself from a corroding past into a liberating future,” he added.

It would be impossible to mark the centenary of Northern Ireland without acknowledging that it only exists because of the partition of this island in 1921.

Ireland's Minister for Foreign Affairs, Simon Coveney attending a service to mark the centenary of Northern Ireland
Image: Ireland’s Minister for Foreign Affairs, Simon Coveney, attending a service to mark the centenary of Northern Ireland

Brexit tensions over the border have put fresh strain on Anglo-Irish relations, adding to the significance of this event.

But fears that this might become a Unionist celebration of partition were eased by the powerful personal testimony of a black church leader, drawing parallels with his native Sierra Leone.

Boris Johnson attends a service to mark the centenary of Northern Ireland
Image: Boris Johnson attends a service to mark the centenary of Northern Ireland

Rev Dr Yambasu said: “I speak as one whose people were bought, sold and used for profit; whose continent was partitioned without any reference to or consultation with its inhabitants and owners; and whose colour is seen as sufficient excuse to ignore their equal humanity with others.”

UK and EU negotiators attempting to resolve differences over the Brexit Protocol should take time to listen to that sermon.

Rev Dr Yambasu didn’t miss and hit the wall but then the Methodists always were “friends of all and enemies of none”.

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