Belfast Telegraph

If McGuinness is so glad the Pope is visiting, why won't he listen to his position on abortion?

Deputy First Minister is wrong to ignore papal message about sanctity of human life, writes Alban Maginness

We are blessed with pastors like the Rev John Dunlop, who can give a loving Christian message that can ignite an enthusiastic response from the many different shades of Christian belief in Northern Ireland. His initial encouragement of, and welcome for, a papal visit on the BBC's Sunday Sequence programme was a good scene-setter that has had a welcome impact.

The confirmation that the Pope was to visit Ireland - and most likely Northern Ireland - was greeted with virtually unanimous approval by the Protestant churches here.

This is an indication of just how far the churches have travelled over the past 40 years since the visit to Ireland of Pope St John Paul II.

Apart from a rather predictable, but somewhat subdued, disapproval by the tiny Free Presbyterian Church, there was enthusiastic support.

The Church of Ireland Dean of Belfast, the Rev John Mann, immediately suggested the novel, but enormously rich, symbolism of an ecumenical service in St Anne's Cathedral in Belfast.

But it was the enthusiastic and warm welcome that is so encouraging in response to the great news of the Pope's visit to Ireland for the World Meeting of Families in August 2018.

Much water has flowed under the bridge since 1979, and in today's Northern Ireland, religious belief of any kind - Catholic or Protestant - is under serious threat by aggressive secularism that is intolerant of religious values being in any part of the public space.

For secularists, religious values are to be marginalised and strictly restricted to the private sphere. Solidarity today among Christians is, therefore, not just desirable, but also essential to defend and uphold Christian values.

This pastoral visit by the Pope will emphasise the message of support that he will bring for the integrity of the family as an institutional expression of Christian love and hope for humanity and as an essential social unit for giving children and the sick and the elderly a safe space that is based upon love and security.

It will also emphasise his personal theme of mercy as a guide to our religious and secular lives.

The concept of solidarity to the marginalised in our society is an unending opportunity for Christians everywhere to empty themselves of material selfishness and possessiveness. If this were to be applied throughout Europe, there would be no immigration crisis.

The Pope's visit will come in the wake of the 500th anniversary next year of the beginning of the Reformation in Wittenberg in 1517.

It was there that the Augustinian Martin Luther protested against the corruption and failings of the Catholic Church and set in train the tragic division of the Christian church, as we well know today in this small part of the world.

How we, as present-day Christians, deal with this historic process of the Reformation and its various events will be a test of goodwill towards one and other and our faith and our desire to restore the original unity of the Church.

It will be a challenge for the churches to address all the outstanding issues that still trouble believers today.

In this respect, it is interesting to note the Pope's recent visit to Sweden to meet with the largest Lutheran church in Europe.

It was a successful visit and one of great warmth and friendship and an example that we can learn from and apply here.

Arlene Foster said she would meet the Pope as a visiting head of state if he came north. Likewise, Martin McGuinness welcomed the Pope's potential visit here.

But it should be remembered that, in 1979, Pope John Paul II, in his famous address at Drogheda, called on the Provisional IRA and others to uphold the sanctity of life and end their violence.

He said: "On my knees, I beg you to turn away from the paths of violence and return to the ways of peace."

McGuinness and his comrades in the IRA ignored that saintly plea, continued their unchristian campaign and caused further needless deaths and injury to so many people here.

If he and his comrades had heeded the Pope then, how many lives would have been saved and how much misery would have been avoided?

Furthermore, what greater political progress towards peace and reconciliation could have been made those 37 years ago?

Today, he and his colleagues in Sinn Fein are repeating the mistake of the past by once again ignoring the papal message about the sanctity of human life by advocating legislation to introduce abortion.

McGuinness and his colleagues are once again ignoring - indeed, defying - the Christian message that life in the womb is to be valued and protected and not deliberately destroyed.

If he is truly sincere in wanting to welcome the Pope, he should seriously reflect on the Pope's teaching that abortion is a grievous wrong.

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