It is a great privilege for me as Archbishop of Tuam to extend a warm welcome to Mr. Lech Walesa to Our Lady’s Shrine at Knock. All who are interested in human rights and in the dignity of the human being have been following with interest and been inspired by the life, courage and leadership provided by Lech Walesa.
In 1980 the authorities were forced to capitulate and negotiate with Mr. Walesa the Gdansk Agreement which gave the workers the right to strike and to organise their own independent union. The Catholic Church supported the movement. The role of the Catholic Church and the struggle for social reform was further raised when the Archbishop of Krakow, Cardinal Karl Wojtyla, became Pope John Paul II. On a visit of His Holiness to Poland the following year the authority of the Church was raised still further. In 1981 at Lech Walesa was cordially received by Pope John Paul II in the Vatican. Lech Walesa himself has always regarded his Catholicism as a source of great strength and inspiration.
On the occasion of the presentation of the Nobel Peace Keeping Prize the Chairman said that Lech Waleasa “is at one with humanity; he belongs to us all. The world has heard his voice and understood his message……..solidarity has come to represent the determination to resolve conflicts and obliterate disagreement through peaceful negotiation, where all involved meet with a mutual respect for one another’s integrity…..he stands as an inspiration and a shining example to all those who, under different conditions, fight for freedom and humanity”. In many ways the name of our own Michael Davitt comes to mind. He too struggled to protect and promote human dignity. Last year we celebrated the centenary of his death.
The apparition which took place here at Knock was an acknowledgement by God of the cries of a dejected and dispirited people who had suffered great deprivation and starvation during the famine. The apparition of Our Lady with St. Joseph, St. John and the Lamb of God on the altar of sacrifice provided hope and encouragement for the people in their suffering.
In view of this the visit of Lech Walesa to Knock at this time is very appropriate. Ireland and Poland have much in common in our history, culture and religion. In the past our Irish people, due to lack of employment and opportunities at home, emigrated to England, America, Australia in search of a livelihood and a new future. They brought with them a faith in which they had been nurtured at home and many of them made significant contributions to their adoptive countries. The Irish Church responded to the situation by sending chaplains, priests and religious to minister to them in their new situations.
We see something similar happening today as Polish people come to live and work in our own country. We extend a very warm welcome to them. Just last year as an Archdiocese we appointed Fr. Krzysztof Sikora to minister to the Polish people who are living and working here in our own Archdiocese of Tuam.
As Irish people we believe that we have a special relationship with the people of Poland after the visit of Pope John Paul II to Knock in 1979. Irish people can identify with loneliness which many Polish people in our country experience today as they are away from home and their families. We endeavour to make them feel welcome and encourage them to integrate to our society. We believe that they have so much to contribute to Ireland in view of their history, culture, traditions and faith. We encourage them to give expression to all of that here amongst us.
As one who is synonymous with the name of Poland throughout the world we warmly welcome you Lech Walesa, your wife, daughter and all who accompany you on this visit. We are very privileged that you have taken this opportunity to be with us.
I would like to congratulate and express our deep gratitude to Rehab and especially to Kevin Burke for making this visit possible. Rehab, for almost sixty years has provided and promoted educational and training facilities for people with disabilities. Rehab has been largely supported by voluntary fundraising. The proceeds from the banquet this evening will go towards the support from this National Organisation in the provision of educational facilities for people with special needs.