Belfast Telegraph

Wednesday 1 October 2014

Why a visit from the Pope could bode well for all of us

Papal hopes: A visit by Pope Francis would bring a smile to many faces in Northern Ireland
Papal hopes: A visit by Pope Francis would bring a smile to many faces in Northern Ireland

After the successful visit of the Queen to Northern Ireland this week, some people are asking if a similar visit from Pope Francis might take place in the near future.

The symmetry is intriguing, and is partly based on the premise that if the Head of the established Church in England can come here, why not the head of the Roman Catholic Church as well?

Without doubt, a Papal visit to Ireland, north and south, would complete the international mosaic of such visits by world figures to this island in recent years.

They include those of three US presidents, the Queen and other members of the Royal Family, and of course Pope John Paul II, which took place in 1979.

The world has changed a great deal since then, but in a sense a complete Papal visit to Ireland has not yet been possible.

It grieved John Paul II deeply that he could not visit Northern Ireland because of the security situation then, and he particularly wanted to come to Armagh.

St Patrick's city is at the very heart of both the Catholic Church and the Church of Ireland on this island.

Since 1979 the Irish Catholic Church has not given up on its dream of a second Papal visit to Ireland. On the day before John Paul's funeral, Cardinal Sean Brady told me in Rome about the hopes of an Irish visit by his successor, whoever that might be.

When Pope Benedict was duly elected, the invitation from the Irish bishops was still on the table, and although intervening scandals including clerical child sexual abuse in Ireland has made a Papal visit here less likely, it cannot be entirely ruled out of the question.

Pope Francis is indubitably a good man, as is Pope Benedict, and he has a larger and more charismatic personality than this shy, academic predecessor.

It is not hard to imagine Pope Francis beaming enthusiastically on the steps of Armagh Cathedral, and there is no doubt that he would receive a warm welcome here, despite the inevitable demonstrations by hardline Protestants.

A visit by the Pope to Northern Ireland, like that of the Queen to the Irish Republic, would show the world that things have changed in Northern Ireland , though not so quickly or so deeply as many of us would have liked.

It would also remind people here that if major international figures are prepared to help us to move on from the memories of the past, we too should be prepared to be more forgiving, more visionary and more confident about our own future.

As a veteran of many of the Queen's visits during the Troubles, I was delighted to witness the informality and relative freedom of movement by the Queen in Northern Ireland this week.

She seemed to be genuinely enjoying herself, and the people appreciated hugely her presence among us. I know that, to paraphrase Churchill, the dreary steeples of Drumcree and Twaddell Avenue are still befogged in Orange/Green mists, but great things are happening here, if only we had the confidence and wit to embrace them.

A Papal visit in the short term would help to maintain this momentum.

Only a few years ago this would have seemed impossible, but in the Northern Ireland of today nothing can be ruled out.

Meanwhile, the Queen has shown again that she is very willing to reach out to all the people of Northern Ireland in her mission to consolidate the peace process.

Perhaps all her 'Loyal' subjects here would take note...

A sin of sacrilege - Video makers will pay for desecration

The sex scenes filmed on the altar of Good Shepherd Catholic Church in Belfast as part of a music promotion video, have been rightly condemned by the majority of people.

The scenes were crude, ghastly, tasteless, horrifying, and much else, depending on your point of view.

They amounted to sacrilege; a term which those who took part may not understand, but in the metaphysical world they will pay – either here or hereafter – for their desecration.

Summer conference - Forty years of universal brotherhood

More than 200 people will be attending the summer conference next week of Focolare, a Christian movement promoting 'universal brotherhood' which celebrates its 40th anniversary this year.

The theme is Many Streams, One River, and the conference will take place at Corrymeela, a co-host, and the Marine Hotel in Ballycastle.

It begins on Wednesday next and the conference is expected to attract many day visitors as well.

Thought for the weekend - The way forward is love of all

My thought to you this weekend is that, though the paramilitary war is long over, we do not yet experience normality and peace.

Here in Northern Ireland there are the ongoing issues of flags, parades and the legacy of the past: and the potential for violence in north Belfast as we approach the July 12 parades.

The question facing all of us is: "How do we move forward into a future which will be attractive and normal?" Here, we must all play our part.

But the primary responsibility for building the future lies with our politicians whom we have elected to office to deliver a just and secure society for all.

Yes, matters of the legacy of the past run deep – often for good reasons where loved ones have been killed or maimed, or livelihoods destroyed.

But that must be more than balanced by our commitment to build a new and happy future for us all.

Some political commentators remark on the level of dissension between opposing parties at Stormont, but there is never any hint or suggestion of the possible fall of the Assembly. The institutions there are durable and resilient. Can these qualities not be brought into play to resolve the issues in north Belfast?

It baffles the imagination that politicians from all sides can sit around the Executive table at Stormont and, indeed, engage in reasoned debate in the Assembly Chamber, but are unable to resolve the standoff at Ardoyne.

As in any clash of interests between individuals or groups, engagement together and compromise are key elements towards finding agreement and resolution. In this, no one gets all their demands, but all get some. None dominates and none is humiliated. In the end, all are winners.

In the Christian faith, we have entered the Trinity season when we remember God the Holy Trinity – Father, Son and Holy Spirit: three Persons but one God.

We think about the relationship between the Father, the Son, and Holy Spirit. It is a relationship of love in which the Father, Son and Holy Spirit all care for each other, all defer to each other, all serve each other, all help each other!

That is the model for relationships in Northern Ireland – to love one another as Father, Son and Holy Spirit love one another.

We are called unequivocally to be like God and to love. That is the way forward for you and me, for the groups at Ardoyne, and for all our political leaders.

A question of faith

Carroll Falls, managing director, Castle Catering Ltd, Ballymena

Your idea of Heaven?

Enjoying utter contentment in the realisation that I have been admitted into the presence of our Divine Father with his angels and his saints.

Eternity, would it not be boring?

St Augustine said: "Thy today yields not tomorrow and does not follow yesterday." Thy 'today' is eternity. I consider eternity to be measured as a perfect day during which I will gaze upon the face of our Almighty Father and Saviour. This could never be boring

Could God be a woman?

Jesus Christ came to live amongst us as man and I believe that the essence of God will only be revealed to us when we are one with God.

Your finest moment of spiritual enlightenment?

On listening to a sermon where the speaker told the story of meeting a member of the Muslim faith who said that he would never leave the church if he believed the Almighty was present in the Tabernacle. We as Roman Catholics believe in the Divine Presence and so this account has enabled me to appreciate the wonderful gift we have been given at the Last Supper and so deepen my faith.

The person alive today you most admire and why?

Pope Francis because of his daily life of humility and his inclusive approach to all.

If you had just one question to ask God face to face, what would it be?

Did Judas repent?

Your favourite book/music/film?

The Seven Story Mountain; The Poet And The Piper; A Man For All Seasons

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