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Frances CollinsMarch 15, 2024
Ambassador Frances Collins meets Pope Francis at the Vatican on Nov. 28, 2022 (Vatican Media)

In Ireland, we are fortunate to have a national day that almost everyone knows. St. Patrick’s Day is an opportunity to celebrate Ireland for more than 70 million people globally who claim Irish ancestry and many more who show their fondness for Ireland in any number of ways.

And yet, even the notion of “celebrating” in our world today provokes doubt and hesitation for many people, and for good reason. We have witnessed more than two years of unprovoked Russian brutality in Ukraine. The appalling Hamas attack on Israel on Oct. 7 of last year was stark in its depravity. The killing of tens of thousands of innocent civilians in Gaza in the period since has also been viewed with horror around the world. Nor can we forget the dire suffering of the people of Sudan, where 10.7 million people are displaced as a result of conflict—making it the country with the largest number of displaced people in the world.

Ireland has a clear and principled position on these conflicts. We have demanded accountability internationally for Russia’s illegal invasion, and we are one of the strongest supporters of Ukraine’s path to membership in the European Union. We condemned outright Hamas’s terrorist attack on Oct. 7, and we have called at every juncture for all hostages in Gaza to be released unconditionally. We have also strongly argued since the early weeks of the conflict for an upholding of international law, a ceasefire and for sustained humanitarian assistance to be provided for the over two million desperate civilians in Gaza. We continue to work with partners to meet the needs of those affected by the conflict in Sudan and to promote a return to the democratic transition that is vital for Sudan’s future.

In short, protecting civilians in conflict—all civilians, everywhere—is our highest priority.

Ireland’s history includes experiences of famine, poverty and forced migration. Even the relative growth and prosperity we enjoyed since joining the European Union in 1973 coexisted, at least until the 1990s, with conflict very close to home in Northern Ireland. However, throughout those dark times, we experienced the solidarity of so many people and nations across the world, which imbued us with a sense of hope for a brighter tomorrow. These experiences have shaped how many of us in Ireland view the world around us today.

Our experiences have also directly shaped our approach to foreign policy. Central to our approach is working to strengthen and protect the multilateral system of nations and working in partnership to address global challenges. We are fortunate to share with the Holy See a strong commitment to work together to address the protracted problems facing humanity, including conflict, climate change, hunger, human trafficking and the threat posed by nuclear weapons.

On St. Patrick’s Day, we have the opportunity to acknowledge the enormous contributions to the causes of peace and justice made by the Irish diaspora the world over. St. Patrick himself has been an inspiration of courage and faith to millions of Irish people, many of whom have dedicated their lives to the church and to making a positive difference in the world—not least of whom are the Irish religious community in Rome and further afield.

As men and women religious, many of them have been called to serve in places where all too often they bear witness to the worst of humanity. Places where they find themselves facing situations of unconscionable violence, human rights abuses, famine and hunger, endemic poverty or grave injustice. Places where they strive to protect people, to alleviate suffering, to work for peace, nearly always at great risk to themselves and to their communities. Often our religious in diaspora are the first to arrive and the last to leave. On this St. Patrick’s Day, we pay homage to their courage and compassion.

There is an old Irish saying: “Ar scáth a chéile a mhaireann na daoine”—“We live in each other’s shadow.” Or as Pope Francis tells us in his papal encyclical “Fratelli Tutti”: “No one can face life in isolation…. We need a community that supports and helps us, in which we can help one another to keep looking ahead.” Protecting and supporting each other, and building enduring partnerships, has never been more vital. It is our focus, too, this St. Patrick’s Day.

More: Ireland / Saints

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