Wednesday 20 March 2019

Sides find safe Arbour for Church-State relations

Lise Hand

A DECISION may have been taken to remove the military swords from this year's 1916 Commemoration Ceremony in Arbour Hill, but there was always the possibility that there still could be members of the congregation at daggers drawn.

The annual Mass brings together the President, Taoiseach and various high-ups in the Catholic Church and, in recent fraught days, the terrible twin As of abortion and austerity have seen the church hierarchy go toe to toe with the Government over the X Case legislation, and Uachtaran na hEireann tiptoe to the constitutional line and test the boundaries of his office by criticising the fiscal policies of the EU.

The Dail's schedule had been changed to facilitate attendance by the Taoiseach and Cabinet, who braved the damp, blustery conditions to travel to the Church of the Sacred Heart. At least Enda was surrounded by a few pals in the event that the senior cleric chosen to deliver the homily decided to administer a few skelps of the sceptre to a head of government who has had the temerity to insist upon complying with the democratic will of the electorate and with a 21-year-old ruling of the highest court in the land.

However – serendipitously for those who wished to see the commemoration Mass proceed without having recourse to our peacekeeping forces – the homily was delivered by Church of Ireland Archbishop of Dublin Michael Jackson.

And he chose not to wade into this particularly bitter battle, especially at this particular event, and his sermon stuck to generalities – although anybody searching for oblique clues as to where the Archbishop stood on the matter, could have looked to one passage in which he stated: "Ireland cannot forever hide behind being 'an emerging Ireland', nor should we want to. We should listen carefully to those who will wish us well and want us to mature," he said. "History develops a new function, that of releasing new energy in a tired and repetitive world, porous to exploitation by those who know that old fears and old symbols still sell and who still suppress those who can think otherwise and think for themselves."

It was a less formal ceremony than usual – there was no military guard of honour inside the church and, for the first time, there was a children's choir (but, undoubtedly, not for the last time, given the warm applause the girls from St Patrick's Senior School, Corduff, received.

After the Mass, a long procession of dignitaries snaked its way from the church to the graves of 14 of the leaders of the 1916 Rising, where prayers were said over the grave by clerics of the Presbyterian, Greek Orthodox and Methodist churches, and members of the Islamic and Jewish communities.

Then the Taoiseach invited President Higgins to place a wreath at the grave on behalf of the people of Ireland, before the Last Post and Reveille brought the ceremony to an end.

Afterwards, Enda and Michael D stood and had a bit of a chat before heading to Collins Barracks with the chilled congregation for a post-Mass cupan tae.

As the President strolled about the room, a man bustled up and fervently grabbed his hand. "You don't know me, but thanks very much for what you said about austerity," he told Michael D.

We're a long way from 1916, but there are still so many battles to be fought and won.

Irish Independent

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