Friday, 13 June 2014

Passing by ... Tuam and Invocation for Peace

I returned from holiday (see last post), returned to what would have been in any case a busy professional period, both in the classroom and in my trade union role... and made matters somewhat worse for myself by also engaging in that classic teachers overtime of marking examination scripts for one of the exam boards. I surface from that to observe a couple of things that have passed me by as a result.

The only part of the Tuam mother-and-baby home story that I caught was an interview on Radio 4's Today programme as I drove to school on Tuesday morning, and even that I didn't quite get all of. In that interview, the local researcher Catherine Corless whose research was the basis (with a lot of added gloss) for the story was extremely cautious in just saying exactly what she had learnt and not adding to it the conclusions that others were drawing all too readily. See here and here for more thorough accounts of the story as it developed in the news media during the last week.

I was away on holiday at the time of Pope Francis' visit to the Holy Land, and only caught rather in passing the news of his invitation to the Palestinian and Israeli Presidents to join him for an encounter of prayer at the Vatican. My immediate thought was that it represented that quite unique manner of diplomatic activity that is possible to the Holy See but not to nations in the more conventional sense. With hindsight, it also contained a quite personal touch belonging to Pope Francis' himself. Reading the texts of the addresses by Pope Francis, President Abbas and President Peres offers (at least in my opinion) considerable insights into the nature of inter-religious dialogue. As expressions of an encounter that is fundamentally religious rather than political, it nevertheless manifests a certain priority of the religious in relation to the political (and I do think that, quite rightly, the political dimensions can be perceived in the addresses of the two Presidents, particularly in the way in which they talk about the city of Jerusalem). I do suggest reading each of the addresses themselves, and looking at the photo gallery and/or the CTV video-on-demand. This Vatican Information Service news release gives some information about the structure of the ceremony as a whole.

One of the things that strikes me about the event is the obvious personal warmth between the two Presidents and Pope Francis - perhaps a manifestation of the meaning of the term "brother" to which Pope Francis refers. I offer the excerpts that I found most thought provoking. First, from Pope Francis (with my italics added):
We do not renounce our responsibilities, but we do call upon God in an act of supreme responsibility before our consciences and before our peoples. We have heard a summons, and we must respond. It is the summons to break the spiral of hatred and violence, and to break it by one word alone: the word “brother”. But to be able to utter this word we have to lift our eyes to heaven and acknowledge one another as children of one Father.
Next from President Peres (again with my italics added - the last section indicating the significance of inter-religious dialogue in the context of the wider dialogues in society, suggesting that it has a certain "foundational character" for all dialogue):
I have come from the Holy City of Jerusalem to thank you for your exceptional invitation. The Holy City of Jerusalem is the beating heart of the Jewish People. In Hebrew, our ancient language, the word Jerusalem and the word for peace share the same root. And indeed peace is the vision of Jerusalem. ... 
During your historic visit to the Holy Land, you moved us with the warmth of your heart, the sincerity of your intentions, your modesty, and your kind ways. You touched the people’s hearts — regardless of their faith or nation. You emerged as a bridge-builder of brotherhood and peace. We are all in need of the inspiration which accompanies your character and your way. Thank you....
On this moving occasion, brimming with hope and full of faith, let us all raise with you, Your Holiness, a call for peace between religions, between nations, between communities, and between fellow men and women
And finally from President Abbas (my italics, again):
It is indeed a great honor for us to meet again with His Holiness Pope Francis in fulfillment of his kind invitation to relish his spiritual and noble presence, and listen to his opinion and crystal wisdom, which emanate from a sound heart, vibrant conscience, as well as an elevated ethical and religious sense....
As well let us remember the words of Saint John Paul II when he said: “If peace is realized in Jerusalem, peace will be witnessed in the whole world” ...  
One cannot read these words and go away thinking that the Papacy, both as an objective office and in its subject of Pope Francis, is irrelevant to the modern world. They manifest its relevance beyond any possible doubt.   

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