Archbishops John McDowell and Eamon Martin: ‘Today we commend our D-Day chaplains – As war threatens the world, we stand for peace and reconciliation’

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Speaking in Normandy at the prayer service to mark the 80th anniversary of the D-Day landing, the Church of Ireland Archbishop of Armagh, Archbishop John McDowell, and the Catholic Archbishop of Armagh, Archbishop Eamon Martin, have reflected together on the sacrifice of those who gave their lives on D-Day 1944.  The Archbishops delivered their respective addresses at the Royal Irish Regiment Service of Remembrance at Ranville Commonwealth War Graves Cemetery, near Sword beach in Normandy, this afternoon.

Archbishop McDowell paid tribute to the Revd James McMurray-Taylor, a Church of Ireland chaplain who landed on Sword beach, on 6 June 1944, and recalled his own experience of growing up in East Belfast among, and alongside, veterans of the Second World War.

Archbishop Martin spoke of the Christian witness of Father John Patrick O’Brien SSC, born in Donamon, Co Roscommon, and ordained in 1942 as a priest for the Mission Society of Saint Columban.  However, due to wartime travel restrictions for missionaries, he trained as an army chaplain and accompanied the D-Day invasion in Normandy.  Archbishop Martin said, “Father Jack O’Brien and the other chaplains ministered to soldiers of all denominations from every county on the island of Ireland … It has been largely forgotten – perhaps conveniently at times – that tens of thousands of men and women from all over the island of Ireland served side by side during the Second World War.  Unlike many others, they were volunteers, rather than conscripts – personally motivated to serve the cause of peace and freedom and justice.

“As war and violence once more threaten to destabilise our continent and our world, Archbishop John and I stand here together at Ranville, witnessing to peace and reconciliation, to fraternity and common humanity.

“Fraternity and common humanity: that is what our brave and generous chaplains stood for in 1944 as they cared for the spiritual and emotional needs of so many in life and in death … the chaplains carried no arms – save the power of prayer and the Word of God.  Their faith gave them all the strength they needed,” Archbishop Martin said.

Ranville sits a short distance from Pegasus Bridge, and has the distinction of being the first village in France to be liberated on D-Day.