Church leaders in Ireland are praying that Britain’s departure from the European Union will not set back peace on the island.
Representatives from the Catholic Church, the Methodist Church, the Presbyterian Church and Church of Ireland met in Belfast on Wednesday to discuss the challenges posed by Brexit.
In a joint statement following the meeting, the Church leaders said relations between people in the Republic of Ireland and Northern Ireland, and between the Republic of Ireland and the UK had ‘improved and deepened immeasurably over the past 30 years or so’.
‘This atmosphere of mutual respect, understanding and growing friendship has been the positive background against which many significant developments have taken place – ceasefires, political accommodation, increased connectedness and rising prosperity for many,’ they said.
They said the message of Jesus to ‘love your neighbour’ was guiding their response to Britain’s decision to leave the EU, and that it was ‘important to acknowledge the legitimate aspirations those who voted to leave the European Union and those who voted to remain’.
‘We also pray at this time that the inevitable tensions, which the Brexit negotiations and their outworking will entail, will not be allowed to undermine the quality of relationships and mutual understanding which are both so important in enabling all of us to work together for the common good,’ they said.
As the public debate continues over how – and even if – the process of Brexit should continue, the Church leaders said public representatives needed to be respectful towards those who disagreed with their views.
They pleaded with people in positions of leadership to keep the debate around Brexit civil and ‘speak with grace’.
‘In this context, we particularly want to encourage public representatives, and all others who give leadership in our society, to weigh their words carefully, to respect the integrity of those who conscientiously differ from them and to speak with grace,’ they said.
The statement was signed by the Most Rev Dr Richard Clarke, Church of Ireland, Archbishop of Armagh and Primate of All Ireland; the Rev William Davison, President of the Methodist Church in Ireland; the Most Rev Eamon Martin, Catholic Archbishop of Armagh and Primate of All Ireland; the Right Rev Dr Charles McMullen, Moderator of the Presbyterian Church in Ireland; and the Rev Brian Anderson, President of the Irish Council of Churches.