On what was a truly historic occasion, the Duke of Edinburgh and the President of Ireland walked side by side up the aisle of St Patrick’s Cathedral in the ancient city of Armagh on Friday March 16 to watch the enthronement of the Archbishop of Armagh, the Most Rev Alan Harper.
The Duke and President Mary McAleese were among the many distinguished guests at the service who were greeted at the Cathedral’s west door by the Very Rev Patrick Rooke, Dean of Armagh and former Archdeacon of Dalriada.
Also in attendance were a large number of senior members of the Church of Ireland including members of the House of Bishops, the Deans and Chapters of St Patrick’s Cathedral, Armagh and St Patrick’s Cathedral, Dublin, St Saviour, Connor in Lisburn Cathedral and the Dean and some members of St Anne’s Cathedral, Belfast.
There were also public representatives from the Republic of Ireland and the United Kingdom. Senior Church representatives of other Christian denominations will be present joining with representatives of the Anglican Communion and the Anglican Churches in Britain.
Among them were Bishop Hilary Luate Adebe of Yei and Bishop Brian Smith of Edinburgh, representing two of Connor’s link dioceses.
In accordance with tradition, the new Archbishop, who is the former Bishop of Connor, struck the Cathedral door three times with his crozier to be admitted by the Dean and Chapter.
The Cathedral was packed to capacity, and the music and singing was quite magnificient. President McAleese read the Old Testament lesson, and the Duke of Edinburgh read from the New Testament.
Following the enthronement ceremony the new Archbishop delivered a sermon based on the story of the Prodigal Son, in which he said it was time to cement the truce between the two communities in Northern Ireland and pledged to lead the fight against sectarianism and division.
“Our antagonisms, some very ancient, others painfully fresh, have damaged and compromised our family life. For many the hurt is personal, deep and sickeningly painful,” the Archbishop said.
He went on: “The Churches must be the first to confront the sins of the past – the beams in our own eye – to be committed, as much in deed as in word, to modelling the relationships of the Kingdom. What we cannot do is pretend that, like some miracle brand of face cream, the lines of suffering can be instantly erased. What we can do, as a first step, is to turn to one another to embrace a restored way of relating, nourished by a commitment to unconditional love and generous forgiveness.”
Speaking of the reaction of the older son after the return of his errant brother, Archbishop Harper said: “Such a reaction roots us in a reality we know well. The indignation of those who have watched the betrayal and injury of others is sometimes sharper and more sustained than that of the victims themselves.
“And that is where we find ourselves now in Northern Ireland – some exhausted by pain and enmity yet longing to begin anew; others finding old hurts hard to put away, reminded, by the ravages of pain in the faces of the people they love, of a past they find it hard to leave behind. Therein is the challenge confronting us all but, especially, those newly called to elected office.”
The Archbishop continued: "Our task is to sew together the rent fabric of our common life, not with invisible mending – such a thing is neither possible nor desirable – but with sutures of mutual acceptance, strong enough to secure time for sustained healing to knit us together in love. It is time to turn from truce to peace."
Greeting guests as they left the Church, the new Archbishop looked relaxed as he thanked the choirboys and older choir members for their wonderful singing, and embraced colleagues and parishioners from all over Ireland and beyond.
Following the service guests were invited to attend a reception at Royal School Armagh.
For more photographs of the Enthronement Service, follow the photo gallery link on our website.