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Queen's hope for a lasting reconciliation is realistic

By Alf McCreary

One of the reasons why I admire the Queen is her openness about sharing her Christian faith, especially in the United Kingdom where many establishment figures are either aloof from religion or too embarrassed to associate themselves with Christianity.

In her Christmas Day message, Elizabeth showed that she is a devout Anglican, and in her broadcast she spoke about the role of Jesus Christ "as an inspiration and an anchor in my life".

There are not many heads of state, apart from the Pope, who would speak out so clearly and it was no surprise that, in a recent survey about moral leadership in Britain, the Queen topped the poll ahead of the Archbishop of Canterbury, and well ahead of Prime Minister David Cameron.

In her speech she also talked about her visit last year to the re-developed Crumlin Road prison.

She said that it had been a place of misery but that now "it is place of hope and fresh purpose; a reminder of what is possible when people reach out to one another".

Some people might regard this as a rather too optimistic view of a Northern Ireland which does not yet enjoy full and lasting reconciliation.

Yet, we tend to forget how far we have come since the worst of the Troubles, and the days of madness when some people up here talked about air-strikes on the Republic. These were bad and mad days which I remember well, and during which journalists like me were trying to find new words to replace those which we had to use too often to describe 'murder most foul'.

The Queen's theme that reconciliation is possible should not be dismissed as a fond dream.

There is much more reconciliation here than I experienced here in my boyhood long ago. In those days most Protestants and Roman Catholics would not attend funerals in each other's churches, mixed marriages between Protestants and Catholics tore apart families, and the main churches existed side by side but not together, in an atmosphere where ecumenism was a dirty word.

Much of that has changed, but much more needs to be done. The Stormont administration is wasting vast sums on setting up shared education because they do not want to fully grasp the nettle of integrated education, the former which would alienate further the Catholic Church and also hardline Protestants. Strange bedfellows indeed.

There is also a need for more reconciliation among our politicians, many of whom cannot stand one another. People should stop complaining about one another and holding out the begging bowl to London and Brussels. Where is our desire to be a better behaved community, with some self-respect?

In my recent travels with Christian Aid I have been to South Africa, which still faces dire poverty and the prospect of another upheaval, partly caused by the vast corruption at the top and the continued neglect of the poor, who have little or no hope of redress.

With Tearfund I have twice visited Rwanda which only just survived a Holocaust, but where the people have hope because real conciliation is taking place.

They no longer call themselves Hutus or Tutsis, but Rwandans. Northern Ireland please note.

The day when we can stop using our labels as 'Protestants' or 'Catholics' or 'unionists' or 'republicans' is the day when we will really start out on the long road to lasting reconciliation.

Bishop's thoughts - The Church exists for everybody

When many people were toasting in the New Year in their own traditional way, the lights were ablaze at the steps of St Anne's Cathedral as Bishop Harold Miller led the Diocese of Down and Dromore into a Year of Mission.

His message is: "The Church is here not for the sake of itself, but for the sake of the outsider. The Church exists to transform the world, for Jesus Christ."

Bishop Miller also quoted the famous Archbishop of Canterbury Dr William Temple, who once said: "The Church is the only society on earth that exists for the benefit of its non-members." Quite so.

Bear necessities - Paddington film is good family fun

This has been a rich period for Christmas and New Year entertainment, despite - and also partly because of - the many repeats on television.

It was also good to see the BBC recordings of the Ulster Orchestra's Prom concerts on the Titanic slipways last year, and we might hope for better days ahead for this fine band, whose principal conductor Rafael Payare will be conducting some concerts with the Vienna Philharmonic next year.

However, my favourite was the film Paddington. It is great for grandparents, parents, and the children. Spoil yourself and go and see it ...

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