Belfast Telegraph

Pope deserves praise for strong political message

By Alf McCreary

This week Pope Francis delivered a major speech to the Council of Europe and in doing so he demonstrated how a church leader can use his position to send political waves across a continent.

In the first Papal visit to Strasbourg since 1988, this charismatic Pontiff from Argentina strongly criticised the "aloof" and "insensitive" institution which has "a rather selfish lifestyle marked by an opulence that is no longer sustainable and which is frequently indifferent to the world around us".

The Pope not only attacked the opulent European 'gravy-train' but he also hit at the heart of the European malaise when he said: "In many quarters we encounter a general impression of weariness and ageing, of a Europe that is now a 'grandmother', no longer fertile and vibrant.

"As a result, the great ideas that once inspired Europe seem to have lost their attraction, only to be replaced by the bureaucratic technicalities of its institution."

Many people, and not just members of Ukip, will identify with the Pope's criticism of the once-visionary institution which seems to have smothered itself in red-tape technicalities, and absurd rulings.

These were well satirised in the BBC's Yes, Minister episode about the imaginary 'European sausage' which was allegedly about to replace the British variety.

The Pope, who received a standing ovation, also showed Church leaders everywhere how to get across a strong message clearly, without a fear of offending vested interests.

This is where the voice of the Church in general can make itself heard in a way which will gain the respect of non-believers, as well as the faithful.

Far too often the churches are so afraid of offending people that their message is muted, and people don't take them all that seriously.

Pope Francis also gave an example to politicians everywhere about the best way to put forward a strong case without being deliberately offensive and without creating a controversy which then becomes the main agenda rather than the content of the original point that has been made.

In Northern Ireland, many of our politicians are classic examples of public figures who go out of their way to offend others and to take offence themselves.

In recent days there have been examples of very un-Parliamentary language in both main parties here, and examples of sub-schoolboy humour and mean-minded bitterness that reduces our politics to a dispiriting shambles.

A number of our politicians from both sides claim to have church connections, but few seem to heed the advice of the New Testament which describes the tongue as 'a fire' and warns 'how great a matter a little fire kindleth'.

The Epistle of James goes on to say that "if any man among you seem to be religious, and bridleth not his tongue, but deceiveth his own heart, this man's religion is vain."

It is doubtful if many people, in private or in public, are heeding these wise words but, if they did so, our public and private life would be much more commendable.

By contrast the level of political debate in this Province too often descends to the lowest level, and politicians seem to be addressing their own supporters rather than the common good.

They also realise, cynically, that, whatever they say about 'the other side', their own side will re-elect them again and again.

Meanwhile, the public continues to suffer from public antics and confrontations which bring politics here into such disrepute.

The Pope has shown how public figures can be a force for good leadership, but in Northern Ireland his words will fall mostly on deaf ears.

Wise words: Gandhi and the Christians

The recent death of Lord Attenborough was a

reminder of the classic eponymous film which he made about the life of Mahatma Gandhi.

There are many Gandhi statues around the world, and many civil rights and other movements have adapted his non-violent methods in their efforts to change society.

Gandhi was not a Christian, but one of his quotes gave a fresh dimension to Christianity.

He said: “When I read the Scriptures, I see Christ. Too often, when I meet Christians, I don’t.”

Poignant and inspiring: A miracle on a suburban street

The age of miracles has not passed, despite some people’s misgivings. This week there was a wonderful example of human survival when a baby was rescued from a gap in the concrete of a Sydney suburb where he had been left for dead.

His cries were heard by a man and his daughter cycling past. They thought it was a kitten, but discovered that it was a baby who somehow had managed to survive for five days in such dire circumstances.

This was both a terrible and an inspiring story, which gives  a very poignant dimension to the Advent season which is now upon us.

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