Galway seminar addresses deep issues of interfaith dialogue
Other faiths judge Christianity by the emphasis that Christians place on prayer, a leading expert has told a Church of Ireland seminar.
Canon Andrew Wingate, the founding Director of the St Philip’s Centre for Study and Engagement in Leicester and now a consultant in the area of interfaith relations, also said that members of other faiths welcomed Christians praying for them.
However, speaking from his experience in England, he said that members of other faith communities sought clarity in the explanation of Christian teaching, but were often surprised at the lack of understanding of Christianity on the part of the citizens of what was understood to be a Christian country.
The election last week of Pope Francis I – the first Pope to come from South America, the home of what is understood to be some 40% of the world’s 1.3 billion Roman Catholics – was an occasion of much joy shared among Roman Catholics and countless others throughout the world. The new Pope’s first appearance and words on the balcony of St Peter’s really showed him to be, as was already known, a man of genuine humility and devotion.
Pope Francis asked for the prayers of those who were listening to him, for their blessing of him, before in turn giving his blessing. He stressed his role as Bishop of Rome itself and referred to the importance of the diocese’s witness within the city and to the wider world. He spoke in attractive, calm and even good-humoured tones, giving the impression of a spiritually aware and capable leader who is also a very congenial human being. His choice of name – Francis I – not only was a signal of regard for Italy but also of his hope for his own pontificate as an example of Christian humility.
Pope Francis I faces an enormous agenda for the Roman Catholic Church and many of the challenges facing it are shared with other Churches and faiths – building up the Church itself, as well as developing ecumenical and interfaith relations; dealing with issues relating to the good and open management of the Church; facing the sexual abuse issue; relating to an increasingly secular West, where traditional Christian views are being challenged and the ‘new atheism’ is rising; and responding to calls for married clergy and the ordination of women. These are only some of the huge issues facing a huge Church, but challenges can be confronted and can be met.
Changing attitudes and structures that are both large-scale and long-standing requires leadership of a truly exceptional nature. Bureaucracy alone will not effect fundamental change – for that, dynamic and inspiring leadership is also required. In his episcopate in Argentina, the then Cardinal Jorge Mario Bergoglio showed those qualities and he comes to the Papacy not so much as as a Vatican ‘insider’ – although he obviously has experience of the workings of the Curia – but more as a leader among the people and as an active champion of social justice in both word and personal example. As he embarks on his pontificate, in succession to the highly regarded Benedict XVI, the prayers and good wishes of Anglicans and others across the globe really do accompany the new Pope Francis. (Report, page 6)
During Passiontide, the Church focuses on the solemn and disturbing events leading up to Jesus’ crucifixion. Of course, these things are remembered in the knowledge of the coming resurrection, but Christians must, and do, go through the full story of what went before. It is a solemn observance because here a wholly innocent man is led into scandalous injustice and unspeakable cruelty; it is also a disturbing observance because of what we learn about human nature, and about ourselves, in all of those sorry events.
The suffering of Jesus tells us not only about the extent of God’s love for every human being but also that the suffering of the world is somehow capable of being transformed.
The suffering that is an inescapable part of the life of the world must be worked through by us, with God’s help, and we are reassured that there is a glory beyond that suffering. Humanity has always tried to come to terms with just why there is suffering at all, and the philosophical and theological problems that are associated with this ceaseless effort of heart and mind are not easily resolved. In the Old Testament, Job loses his livestock, his material wealth, his seven sons and his three daughters. Despite these afflictions, he remains faithful, uttering the well known words, “the Lord gave, and the Lord has taken away” (1: 21), Job’s steadfast faith is not without deep inner conflict and to this is added the moral challenge of criticism and temptation, even from his wife, to turn on God. Then, through a personal revelation by God to Job, his shaken confidence is restored: “I have uttered what I did not understand,” he confesses (42: 3).
The story of Job brings the reader from the heights to the depths and back to the heights again. The existence of misfortune and suffering is not explained, but faith and devotion are shown to have the capacity to enable the individual to rise above the worst that life can bring.
The presence of suffering in the world is surely brought to the fore in the narratives of Holy Week. If we seek an answer as to why there must be afflictions of every kind, suffering permeating all of nature, we will not find any neat response. Instead, Holy Week is a call to summon all inner resources and to seek God’s help, in the knowledge that God has come and shared all this with us, loving us with a love that goes beyond the terrible here and now and into eternal blessedness and peace.
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Anglican and ecumenical welcomes for new Pope Francis I
Letters to the Editor
Initial teacher training
I have been very concerned about the proposed changes in initial teacher training which, in their current proposed form, will have a long-term, devastating effect on the Church of Ireland community. Negotiations have been going on since March 2012, when the Board of Governors of the Church of Ireland College of Education (CICE) appointed a threeperson working group.
According to the statement on behalf of the Board of Governors of CICE issued on 13th November 2012, this group “engaged in several months of negotiations with Trinity College Dublin between April and June 2012”.
The statement goes on to say that “the CICE Board authorised the Chair and the Principal to explore a range of options in June 2012 and reiterated this authorisation in October 2012”. These negotiations were with NUl Maynooth and Dublin City University (DCU).
I find it deeply unsettling that, in the interest of accountability and transparency, a two- or three-person working group can seal the fate of a whole community. There was no forum for discussion before or during these negotiations. Ad hoc meetings with Boards of Managements and Teachers were convened at short notice post-negotiations. This was a futile exercise, with those conducting those meetings nodding their heads as though they understood the people’s concerns but, in reality, the deal was done and our fate sealed.
Where was the forum for discussion with the Patrons? Each Bishop is Patron of a number of Primary Schools in his Diocese. These are our Church leaders, the stakeholders. Were they included in any decisionmaking or were they merely informed of the decision of the Board of Governors?
Perhaps it was an article entitled ‘Teacher Training Reform on Track’ (Irish Times, 4th February 2013) that most concerned me when it outlined that other Colleges had seen fit to reject the proposals of merger, but the HEA “notes that the most radical and complex proposal, a new Institute of Education bringing together St Patrick’s College, Mater Dei and CICE, is on course”.
The General Synod of the Church of Ireland takes place in May. This could be the platform for a full and meaningful discussion on:
(a) How a 90-year tradition of TCD/CICE association was severed; and
(b) How St Patrick’s/DCU/ CICE can better safeguard aspirational core principles in a totally Roman Catholic environment.
Hazel McClean Hollystown Dublin
The crows of the 1983 Constitutional amendment on abortion have now come home to roost, as we in the Church of Ireland who were active in the anti-amendment campaign predicted.
The proposed wording was ambiguous, for it gave an equal right to life both to the mother and the unborn. In the case of a complicated pregnancy, this placed the doctors with no clear guidance.
In opposing the amendment, we maintained that the mother should have the primary right to life, not merely equal to the unborn who, in the womb, is entirely dependent on the mother.
In 1983, the Church of Ireland opposed the need for a Constitutional amendment, since abortion was already illegal under the 1861 Act. Such a morally controversial and divisive issue, we asserted, should have no place in a Constitution. It should be a matter for a legislature, as, indeed, the Irish Supreme Court has now ruled.
The giving of an equal right to life to both mother and the unborn reflects the moral teaching of e.g., the Roman Catholic Church.
This holds that an equal right to life is present in the fertilised ovum at the moment of conception.
Others maintain that this tiny cell of life has the potential of becoming a human being or person at a later stage, if all goes well, just as the acorn is not the oak but has the potential of becoming one. Legislation sets the time limit for termination in states where abortion is available. A state which professes to be democratic and pluralist must not enshrine in its Constitution an absolutist, morally controversial decree to the exclusion of other views sincerely held by many law-abiding citizens.
Certainly there should be no indiscriminate abortion.
There must be clear and undeniable medical evidence of serious risk to the life or health of the mother who must always be treated with compassion, respect and understanding.
Victor G. Griffin (The Very Revd) Limavady BT49
Features and Columns
- Focus on Reflections from Jerusalem
- Insight – ‘God’s loving care in the land of forgetfulness’ Meeting the spiritual needs of those with dementia By The Revd Jim Campbell.
- Soap – Down at St. David’s
- Musings – Alison Rooke – Donkeys
Curious Cargo : Voyages to the West Indies: South and Central America and the Mediterranean Author: Patrick Semple Publisher: Code Green Publishing
Luther’s Revolution: the Political Dimensions of Martin Luther’s Universal Priesthood Author: Nathan Montover Publisher: James Clarke & Co.; pp.154
- Standing Committee News – March 2013