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Bishop Gerry was a tireless peacemaker and bridge-builder

Thursday, 22 December 2016

Bishop Gerry was a tireless peacemaker and bridge-builder thumbnailMost Reverend Gerard Clifford, Auxiliary Bishop Emeritus of Armagh

MOST Reverend Gerard Clifford, Auxiliary Bishop Emeritus of Armagh, who passed away last week, has been described as "a tireless peacemaker and bridge-builder".

Bishop Clifford, who was appointed by the late Cardinal Tomás Ó Fiaich as an ecumenical and reconciliation officer of the diocese in 1979, died peacefully last Monday, aged 75.

Describing Bishop Clifford as "a devoted and generous priest and bishop" who had to resign from active ministry in 2013 due to ill health, Archbishop Eamon Martin said he was "always held in great affection and esteem".

"When he retired, Bishop Gerry acknowledged and thanked the people of the diocese for 'their great warmth and affection'," Archbishop Martin said.

"These were precisely the qualities that everyone received from this good and faithful priest and bishop.

"Sadly, since then, he has had to endure increasing frailty and illness and he has done so with characteristic courage, patience and faith.

"Bishop Clifford was a holy and humble man who instinctively placed the concerns of others first, as befits a true messenger of the Gospel.

"Born in the border parish of his beloved Lordship and Ballymascanlon, Bishop Gerry was a tireless peacemaker and bridge-builder. He was one of the great figures of the ecumenical movement in Ireland - a role he accomplished through gentle friendship and witness.

"His episcopal motto in 1991 was 'That all may be one', from Christ's prayer at the Last Supper. Bishop Gerry said at the time that 'the unity implied is a firm 'yes' to the way of love and a firm 'no' to the way of hatred.

"He placed great store in the innate decency of people and he used every opportunity to heal the wounds created by violence, distrust and fear.

"His episcopal ministry involved working in ecumenism, education and, as President of Cura, in the pastoral care area of crisis pregnancy.

"In my visits to Bishop Gerry in recent weeks and months he seemed at peace. As he was a man of deep faith, I ask you to join with me in prayer for the repose of his soul.

"May he rest forever in the peace of The Lord whom he generously and faithfully served. May God console his sister Rose, brother Christopher, his extended family, the people, priests and religious of the Archdiocese of Armagh, along with his many friends," Archbishop Martin added.

Born on June 24, 1941, into a farming family, Bishop Clifford was the second child of the late Thomas and Margaret Clifford of Bellurgan.

Educated at Bellurgan National School, Bush Vocational School, Saint Mary's College, Dundalk, and Saint Patrick's College, Armagh, he studied for the priesthood at Saint Patrick's College, Maynooth, before being ordained to the priesthood on June 18, 1967.

He undertook post-graduate studies both at Maynooth and at Lumen Vitae, the international catechetical centre in Brussels.

From 1969 until 1979, he was appointed Director of Religious Education in the Archdiocese of Armagh.

During this time, he liaised with all schools of the diocese and published several guides to help parents in the religious formation of their children.

After the 1979 pilgrimage by Pope Saint John Paul II to Ireland, the then Father Clifford was part of the response by the Catholic Church in Ireland to the late Pope's special appeal for churches to work more closely together.

He undertook this work in partnership with the late Church of Ireland Canon William Arlow.

In 1979, the late Cardinal Tomás Ó Fiaich appointed him ecumenical and reconciliation officer of the diocese, with a base in Richhill.

He worked closely with Canon William Arlow, who held a similar post in the Church of Ireland.

Bishop Clifford regarded his ecumenical involvement as one of the most important aspects of his life as a priest. His interest in ecumenism went back to his student days - his theological degree was awarded for a study of ministry in the Anglican Church.

As ecumenical and reconciliation officer, he organised ecumenical talks twice a year between the diocese and Saint Anne's Cathedral, Belfast. He was responsible for organising the inter-church services in Armagh Cathedral during the annual Week of Prayer for Christian Unity, which brought a number of prominent ecumenists from abroad to Northern Ireland.

With Canon Arlow, he organised a major ecumenical pilgrimage to Iona in 1984. Also in the 1980s, he brought a group of young people from Portadown to Philadelphia as part of an exchange programme.

He was a member of the Ballymascanlon Inter-Church committee and co-chairman of its joint working party on social problems.

With Bishop Anthony Farquhar, he was observer for the Irish Catholic Bishops to the then newly-formed Council of Churches of Britain and Ireland.

In 1984, the then Father Clifford was appointed first full-time executive secretary of the Irish Bishops' Conference.

He was also joint secretary of the liaison committee which links the bishops and Britain and Ireland, and regularly represented the Bishops' Conference at meetings abroad.

Bishop Clifford was appointed as Titular Bishop of Geron on March 25, 1991 and his episcopal consecration took place on April 21, 1991.

As a member of the Irish Catholic Bishops' Conference, Bishop Clifford was a member of its Council for Ecumenism (and Dialogue); a member of the Episcopal Commission for Pastoral Care, and was President of CURA from 2010 until 2013.

At St Patrick's Church in Dundalk last Thursday, Archbishop Martin, the chief celebrant at Bishop Clifford's Funeral Mass read out a message of condolence on behalf of Pope Francis.

“The Holy Father was saddened to learn of the death of Bishop Gerard Clifford and he sends heartfelt condolences to the clergy, religious and lay faithful of the Archdiocese of Armagh. 

"United with you in prayerful thanksgiving for his generous and dedicated episcopal ministry in the service of education and ecumenism, His Holiness joins those gathered for the solemn funeral rites in commending the soul of the late Prelate to our Heavenly Father's merciful love.

"Upon all who mourn Bishop Clifford's passing, Pope Francis cordially imparts his Apostolic Blessing as a pledge of peace and consolation in the Lord Jesus Christ."

In his Homily, Cardinal Seán Brady, Archbishop Emeritus of Armagh, told mourners he had first met the late Bishop Clifford in the late 1980s.

"He was then Executive Secretary of the Irish Bishops' Conference and I was newly appointed Rector of the Irish College in Rome. 

"I had come to Maynooth to present the annual report on the college to the conference. It was the first of many such occasions when I was very pleased to have the reassuring presence of Gerry Clifford at my side. I was very pleased, when a few years later he was appointed Auxiliary Bishop to Cardinal Cahal Daly. 

"When he came to Rome to get fitted out for his new role, my first impressions were definitely and pleasantly confirmed. Here was someone who was the essence of kindness and consideration, happy in his priesthood and yet willing and capable of undertaking whatever was asked of him, gently and generously.

"Four years later we found ourselves together again - this time working more closely as Bishops, helping Cardinal Daly in this Archdiocese of Armagh. Once again I found the help and support and encouragement of Bishop Gerry to be invaluable. 

"I found that during his years as Director of Religious Education he had gained the trust, the respect and the esteem of the priests, religious and teachers of the diocese. He was acutely aware of the importance of religious education.  "He teamed up with many others - priests and laity - to provide a top class advisory service in religious education at a time when it was badly needed.

"I also discovered that in his capacity as Diocesan Ecumenical Director, he had built a lot of precious contacts and made a lot of warm friendships with members of other churches. These were to prove of immense value throughout the rest of his life in his work for greater understanding among Christian communities."  

Cardinal Brady recalled how Bishop Clifford had a great love of gardening and painting and of walking in the foothills of the Cooleys, which he said were all signs of his keen appreciation of beauty and of life and of creation. 

"Now that the curtain has come down on his personal life on earth, we ask the Lord to draw back the other curtain to let him see the light of eternal day.  

“'I wish you well' was one of Bishop Gerry's favourite ways of saying farewell. Now we wish you well, Bishop Gerard, in the sure and certain knowledge that nothing can ever come between us and the love of God which was made visible in Christ Jesus, Our Lord."

Following Requiem Mass, Bishop Clifford was laid to rest at Calvary Cemetery, Ravensdale.

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