McAleese made her pointed remarks in Italy made her remarks at the annual Rimini meeting of the influential Italian Catholic lay group, “Comunione e Liberazione”. Ten thousand leading Italian Catholics were in attendance.
During her speech McAleese called Archbishop Martin a symbol of change in Ireland, saying: “We have a wonderful archbishop who is doing an amazing job, God bless him.”
Her comment came after the Vatican overruled Martin on the issue of dismissing two bishops he said were culpable on child abuse scandals. Since then Martin has appeared greatly weakened.
She stated the Irish peace process and advances in European unity made this a very special time.
“We are a privileged generation for we are living through the making of fascinating and uplifting new history in both Ireland and Europe.
“It is not always elegant or pretty in the making. It is often cacophonous and difficult for consensus can be a nightmare to achieve and often those doing the negotiating have as many problems persuading their own followers as they have in persuading the opposition.
“However, for all the ups and downs, false starts and setbacks the structures of the Good Friday Agreement, including the power-sharing government between old enemies in Northern Ireland are proving, like the European Union, to be infinitely more hope-filled and successful than anything which preceded them”, said Mrs McAleese.
She also stated that she would not be seeking a third term saying: “I’m not looking for another job (as president).”
She talked about how sectarianism in Northern Ireland had forced her to ponder such matters from an early age.
“There was a moment when my family experienced sectarian violence . . . when I had to ask myself did I believe in reconciliation, love and forgiveness.
“I made a conscious decision not to embrace violence . . . and it was good to have the option to love and I’m grateful to those passionate priests, to those nuns who introduced me to the concept of love.”
“I believe in change, the power of change, I believe in love and the discipline of love. The words are not new, we learned them from our mothers . . . but we must realise that we are the force that will change history. If we refuse to be mere spectators, then the change that we want will come, God willing.”