Monday 19 February 2018

Do not be ashamed of public displays of faith


IFIND the Baroness Warsi a fascinating woman, despite the occasional glitch in her career to date. She is 41 years old, a Muslim of Pakistani origin, a solicitor, a politician, a Life Peer, co-Chairman of the British Conservative party from 2010 until she was demoted recently. What interests me most, however, is her very publically declared views on the place of religion in society.

On St. Valentine's Day this year she led a delegation to the Vatican as a follow-up to Pope Benedict's very successful 2010 visit to Britain.

On that occasion she expressed a 'fear' about the marginalisation of religion throughout Britain and Europe.

"It seems astonishing", she said, "that those who wrote the European Constitution made no mention of God or Christianity."

A rampant, rising tide of ' militant secularism' was taking hold of our societies, she claimed.

"We can see it in a number of things: when signs of religion cannot be displayed in government buildings; when states won't fund faith schools; and where religion is sidelined, marginalised and downgraded in the public sphere."

Only days previous to her visit to the Vatican, the National Secular Society succeeded in a High Court bid to prevent a town council from doing what it had done for centuries – hold a short prayer service at the beginning of its meetings.

Nadia Eweida, a British Airways worker, and Shirley Chaplin, a nurse, who had been disciplined for wearing Christian symbols at work, had lost their case in the British courts and have taken it to the European Court of Human Rights.

A doctor who had circulated prayers among his colleagues was told by a judge that there was no place for religious references in his work.

The doctor's language, he said, was inappropriate in a professional setting; he should keep his religious beliefs to himself.

An editorial writer in a British broadsheet at the time of the Vatican visit lauded the Baroness for her timely warning about the removal of religion from the public domain and added it was high time that many of our religious leaders were "similarly assertive and stopped being so apologetic about their faith".

The most recently ordained bishop in England, Philip Egan of Portsmouth, has stated in a Pastoral Letter marking the Year of Faith, that our faith is "essentially public" and witness to it begins in small things: "Why not wear a crucifix or a religious symbol?

"Or perhaps when you are out for a meal, make the sign of the Cross before you begin; or even simple things like saying, 'Thank God', when someone tells you good news. These can be very gentle forms of publically witnessing to our Christian faith."

There are many equally gentle and traditional ways of publically witnessing to our faith here in Ireland: making the Sign of the Cross passing a church or cemetery; blessing ourselves with holy water on leaving home and returning; placing religious symbols in our homes and cars; when possible, standing still to pray The Angelus and saying a prayer for safety on the road before embarking on a journey.

Simple things like these can be very effective means of evangelisation during this Year of Faith.

And they will not make serious demands on our time or energy.

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