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Top Protestant hails papal visit

A senior Protestant clergyman has said the Pope's visit to Britain proved there is greater interest in Christianity than is normally reflected in the media.

Church of Ireland Bishop of Derry and Raphoe Dr Ken Good has told a meeting of his diocese, attended by senior figures from the Catholic, Methodist and Presbyterian churches, that faith in God was more mainstream than was usually portrayed.

He has told his diocesan synod at a meeting in Londonderry that any attempt to marginalise the positive influence of religion risked undermining the good of work of people of faith.

He cited the reception given to Pope Benedict as evidence of the continued healthy state of religious communities and he warned against marginalising them through a "misguided political correctness".

"The recent visit of Pope Benedict XVI to Scotland and England confirmed what many of us have known, namely that there is in fact a higher level of public interest in the Christian faith and in issues to do with Christian leadership and influence than might be assumed from the normal fare of media coverage," he said.

"Despite the best hopes and efforts of some of the 'new atheists', matters to do with religious faith, far from disappearing into the background of social consciousness, are very much to the fore in many people's minds and, if anything, are gaining a more prominent place in social discourse rather than receding into the mists of oblivion.

"It is a good and healthy thing for society that religious faith, moral issues, ethical debate and church teaching appear on the front page of newspapers and in the headline news on TV and radio - as they certainly did during the papal visit.

"We believe that society would be very much the poorer if religious values and practices were to be sidelined and marginalised, whether by a misguided political correctness or by a mistaken attempt supposedly to 'not offend' anyone."

The Church of Ireland event has been attended by Moderator of the Presbytery of Derry and Donegal Rev Dr Brian Brown, Catholic Bishop of Derry Dr Seamus Hegarty and President Designate and Superintendent of the North West District of the Methodist Church in Ireland Rev Ian Henderson.

In his address he has also welcomed recent comments by Conservative Party chairman Baroness Warsi highlighting the Government's desire to see churches play a role in strengthening community life. He added: "These are indeed exciting times in which to be living as a person of faith."