Monday, 15 February 2010

Civic Mass and anti-Catholic protest

On Sunday, a collection of gay, secularist and humanist groups took part in a march in London opposing the involvement of the Catholic Church in the public life of Europe. The march began at Westminster Cathedral and ended with a rally outside the Italian Embassy. Since all the sponsoring groups support causes that are opposed to the teaching of the Catholic Church, one can perhaps put this protest into some sort of context with the observation that it represents "opponents of Catholicism protesting against Catholicism", a kind of mirror to the "Pope is Catholic". It is the second year that this protest has taken place, and it supports a similar march that is held in Rome. I have not been able to gain any idea from the media of how well  this protest was supported.

But only three hours before this protest, Liverpool Cathedral hosted a "civic Mass", attended by politicians and civic leaders of the city, and at which the Archbishop of Westminster preached. The press release for this event can be found on the website of the Catholic Bishops Conference, and it includes a link to the full text of the homily. There is a report, and one or two photographs, on the Liverpool Archdiocese website: Work for the good of all.
Public debate in our society today is often strident. Organisers are on the look out for participants who not only profoundly disagree but who are also prepared to be dismissive and disparaging about each another. It is supposed to ‘spice up’ the debate, but I suspect it simply reveals the fact that often such debates are planned as a type of entertainment.

Yet serious differences do exist, not least about faith in God. There are some voices who do not hesitate to speak of faith, such as we celebrate here today, as a delusion, as a sign of childish immaturity, as an abandonment of reason and as a source of great wrong doing. Not surprisingly they wish to see religious faith banished from public places.

Our presence together here this morning indicates that this is not a view that we hold. Yet we have to have it in mind, even as we celebrate this Mass, attentive to the Word of God that has just been proclaimed to us and here too we must be aware of these differences and divisions.
Archbishop Nichols went on to talk about how the Catholic faith can offer a response to the lack of hope, the sense of disillusion and inability to be effective in the crises of our society. The point of this to those who do not share religious faith is that, though they might not share the religious basis, they can share in the idea of a vision of life that offers hope and effectiveness in society. To exclude this creates the situation that Pope Benedict referred to in his recent address to the English and Welsh bishops during their ad limina visit. When religious freedom is undermined, so is the freedom of all people.

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