One of the key architects of the Northern Ireland peace process has been honored by Pope Benedict for his commitment to peace and reconciliation in the region.
John Hume, a founder-member of the mainly Catholic Social Democratic and Labor Party, was credited with initiating the political dialogue that brought about the 1994 cease-fire by the Irish Republican Army. He received the Nobel Peace Prize in 1998.
Born in a Catholic area of Derry in 1937, Hume studied for the priesthood for several years before returning to his native city as a teacher in a Catholic high school. His experience of the hardship and injustice that the minority Catholic community experienced coupled with his grounding in Catholic social teaching led to his involvement in the Northern Ireland Civil Rights Association.
The organization campaigned for an end to discrimination against Catholics in the provision of housing and in employment. In 1972, 14 Catholic activists were killed by the British army at a civil rights march in Derry on what became known as Bloody Sunday. In 2010, a judicial inquiry ruled that the killings were unlawful and British Prime Minister David Cameron apologized to the families.
In contrast to the IRA, which engaged in a paramilitary campaign to end British rule in Northern Ireland, Hume argued that if Northern Ireland were to leave the British union and become part of the Republic of Ireland — a long-cherished hope of most Catholics in the region — it would have to be by exclusively peaceful and democratic means.
The 1998 peace agreement — known as the Good Friday Agreement because of the day it was signed — was hailed as a peaceful resolution of the conflict.