The Holy See
back up



Saturday, 3 January 2004



1. Tragedy beyond Words

"Precious in the eyes of the Lord is the death of his faithful" (Ps 116: 15).

Impelled by our faith in Jesus Christ, we have come together for the final funeral rites of a great witness of Christ, Archbishop Michael Aidan Courtney. Ordained Bishop in this very church in Nenagh on 12 November 2000, he took up his appointment as Papal Nuncio to Burundi. After three years of dedicated exercise of his mission, and on his way back to Bujumbura from a Mass, he was mercilessly shot at from a nearby hill last Monday, 29 December. The doctors did their best but his generous soul left his body in the operating theatre the same day.

2. A great Herald of the Gospel

Archbishop Michael Courtney knew from the start that the mission of Papal Nuncio to Burundi was a delicate, difficult and dangerous one. Burundi is a nation that has known tension, animosity and violence. Nuncio Courtney preached mutual love, Christian reconciliation, harmony and unity between people. He made his own the exhortation of St Paul to the Corinthians: "We are ambassadors for Christ: it is as though God were appealing through us, and the appeal that we make in Christ's name is: be reconciled to God" (2 Cor 5: 20). It is tragic that this very witness of the love of Christ, this ambassador of the Pope who daily manifested the concern of the Successor of Saint Peter for all citizens of Burundi, is shot dead by the very people he was serving. We can get a look at the fine Christian spirit of our lamented Archbishop Courtney from the first paragraph of his will just released. It reads: "Let my first words be addressed to the One who called me to serve Him in the priesthood and to be a Minister of His compassion, goodness, closeness and love to all of those whom Providence has destined me to encounter - in two parishes in the Diocese of Clonfert in Ireland and in various countries where I have served as a representative of the Holy See. As I have ministered his pardon to others, I now place myself in His hands and beg His mercy and forgiveness for my own sins and shortcomings in his service".

3. Condolences

The Holy Father, Pope John Paul II, has charged Archbishop Carlo Maria Viganò and myself to express his heartfelt condolences and to bring his Apostolic Blessing to the relatives of Archbishop Courtney, to the people of Nenagh, to the Dioceses of Clonfert and Killaloe and to Church and Society in Ireland as a whole, and therefore to you Your Eminence, Cardinal O'Connell, to all the Bishops of Ireland, to Government representatives and to all the clergy, religious and lay faithful here present.

Preaching two days ago in Saint Peter's Basilica at the World Day of Peace Solemn Mass, the Holy Father also commemorated Archbishop Courtney. He said:  "For the Christian to proclaim peace is to announce Christ who is "our peace' (Eph 2: 14); it is to announce his Gospel, which is a "Gospel of peace' (Eph 6: 15); it is to call everyone to the happiness of being "peacemakers' (cf. Mt 5: 9; cf. Message for World Day of Peace, No. 3). Of the "Gospel of peace', Archbishop Michael Aidan Courtney, my representative as Apostolic Nuncio in Burundi, also was a witness. He was tragically killed a few days ago while he was carrying out his mission of dialogue and reconciliation. Let us pray for him, also that his example and supreme sacrifice may bring fruits of peace in Burundi and in the world" (cf. Pope's homily, 1 January 2004, n. 3).

I personally add my expression of sympathy. I cry for this heinous act of a few tragically misguided people in Burundi, people of violence who must not be allowed to give a negative image to a whole people.

I thank the Church in Ireland for having given to the universal Church in Archbishop Courtney a splendid witness who gave his life for Christ and the Gospel right up to the shedding of his blood. I pray for the conversion of all people of violence in Burundi and everywhere else in the world. Violence is a road without exit. Love and forgiveness have a future.

4. Our faith guides us

We are followers of Christ. Our faith guides us especially in painful moments such as this one.

Jesus died for us on the Cross. The Crucifix is God's answer to us in moments of great suffering. The eternal Father "did not spare his own son, but gave him up to benefit us all" (Rom 8: 31). By dying, Christ destroyed our death and by rising again the third day he restored our life. In the inscrutable ways of divine Providence, the tragic and, humanly speaking, untimely death of Archbishop Courtney has place and meaning. Suffering offered with Christ, in Christ and through Christ, has redemptive value.

May the painful death of Archbishop Courtney bring grace and blessing to his home country, ever greater credibility and growth to the witness which the Church gives to Christ by evangelisation and justice, peace and reconciliation to Burundi and to all other areas of violence or conflict in the world.

Let us pray to our Blessed Mother Mary, Queen of Martyrs and Comforter of the afflicted to bring God's comfort and peace to all who mourn, and to obtain for the great soul of Archbishop Courtney eternal rest in the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit.