Archbishops lead ‘pilgrimage of hope’ to WWI battlefields

A three-day pilgrimage led by two Armagh archbishops of different faiths to some of World War One’s most poignant locations began today.

Archbishop Richard Clarke of the Church of Ireland and his counterpart in the Catholic Church, Archbishop Eamon Martin, are leading at delegation of 36 people to sites including the Island of Ireland Peace Park at Messines and the Menin Gate in Ypres.

Archbishop Richard Clarke and Archbishop Eamon Martin with the delegation in Kortrijk at the start of their pilgrimage

Archbishop Richard Clarke and Archbishop Eamon Martin with the delegation in Kortrijk at the start of their pilgrimage

In 2016 the two archbishops had taken a cross-community group of young people from across Ireland to the battle sites of the Somme.

Building on the previous pilgrimage and marking the upcoming centenary of the end of the First World War, the archbishops along with a group of 16 young adults from NI of varying ages and backgrounds, and representing the Protestant and Catholic traditions, made their first stop in Kortrijk in Belgium, a city that was heavily bombed in 1917.

Archbishop Clarke said: “We’ve called it a pilgrimage of hope. Many people look back at the First World War and see it as a time of hopelessness and wrecklessness, but amid all the awfulness people found hope and strength in each other.”

He added: “We will have much to learn from this joint trip, and from each other in the group. It is our vision that the pilgrimage will be a witness to hope and that the visits to these important and symbolic sites in the centenary year of the end of the First World War will enable us to forge even greater friendships and work yet harder for peace together in the future.”

Archbishop Martin said he hoped the group of young people will be able to “forge friendships and share their thoughts and hopes for the future while exploring their cultural identities”.

The sites on the pilgrimage will focus on the Battle of Messines and the places where soldiers from the 16th (Irish), 10th (Irish) and 36th (Ulster) Divisions fought and died in Belgium and France. The delegation will also take part in the laying of a peace wreath at the Menin Gate at Ypres.

The group will visit cemeteries and memorials including Thiepval Wood and the Ulster Tower, the Memorial Museum at Passchendaele and Tyne Cot Cemetery.

They will spend part of their time at the Island of Ireland Peace Park and its surrounding park in Messines – a war memorial to the huge number of soldiers of the island of Ireland who died, were wounded or are missing from World War One.

The tower memorial is close to the site of the June 1917 battle for the Messines Ridge.