THE \\ I I h of prayer for Ireland, initiated by the four top Irish church leaders. begins on Sunday. It is certain to include prayers of thanks for the ending of the hunger strike in Belfast's Maze prison last week.
fhe decision by the seven IRA prisoners to call off their strike after 53 days came as a welcome surprise to all those who feared that the joy of Christmas would be marred by the death of one or more of the strikers.
On hearing the news of the strike's end on Friday morning Cardinal Hume commented: "We should he grateful to God for this development. Our prayers must continue. The end to the hunger strike gives the government an opportunity for a cornpassionate and courageous response."
Cardinal Tomas 0 Fiaich said: "My first reaction on hearing the news is a fervent Thank God. Thousands of people have been praying for weeks that the hunger strike would come to an end soon. and their prayers have been heard.
"The decision will he welcomed with great relief hy all sections of the community arid their prayers have been heard. I hope that the Northern Ireland Office will respond with the flexibility which the European Commission of Human Rights commended to them.
"It is my urgent wish and prayer that all the hunger strikers from both sections of the community will be quickly restored to full health!"
The cardinal again appealed for an end to violence "so that all Irish men and women may he brought closer together in friendship, co-operation and peace."
The week of prayer .is "for remembrance and spiritual renewal."