Bishops host major conference “Who is my neighbour?”

18 Feb 2008

18 February 2008

Bishops host major conference “Who is my neighbour?” based on
Pope Benedict XVI’s first encyclical letter Deus Caritas Est (God is Love)

Cardinal Seán Brady, the Archbishop of Armagh, today [18 February 2008] opened a conference on the theme “Who is my neighbour?” based on Pope Benedict XVI’s first encyclical letter Deus Caritas Est (God is Love). Archbishop Diarmuid Martin, the Archbishop of Dublin, chaired the one day conference which was organised by the Irish Commission for Justice and Social Affairs (ICJSA). 

Speaking at the conference, ICJSA chairman Bishop Raymond Field said: “the parable of the Good Samaritan is a key theme of the Gospel and one that readily applies as much to our lives today as it did 2,000 years ago. Importantly our understanding of the Christian concept of ‘neighbour’ does not confine us to any one or to any number of categories. God is love and created human beings to love. Speaking about Deus Caritas Est (God is Love), Pope Benedict has said: “… it is love that created man and that bows down over him, as the Good Samaritan bent down to the wounded and robbed man, lying on the side of the road that went down from Jerusalem to Jericho.”

“As we seek to answer the question ‘Who is my neighbour?’ we need to critically evaluate our own contribution and outlook to life, and consider:

– In the context of our home lives, could we give more of ourselves to others? – As a member of our local parish community, how much do we contribute to it? – Our attitude to our work colleagues and employers, could it be improved upon? – And, most famously of all, how might we deal with, and help, the total stranger?

“Our society is becoming more complex and, some would argue, more remote. I believe – now more then ever – that the question ‘Who is my neighbour?’ poses a real challenge to all of us in the Ireland of 2008. Clearly greater debate and responsibility around this issue is now required by faith groups, public policy makers, media commentators … in truth each and every person in our society needs to ask, and answer, this question.”

Keynote speaker Professor Conor Gearty, of the London School of Economics, said: “The Catholic Church shares a great deal of common ground with another group that commands increasing respect in Ireland, the international human rights movement. Each is sceptical of the power of the market to deliver a just and a fair society. Each believes in human dignity and in the proposition that we should all be esteemed equally wherever we are from, whatever our race or ethnicity and however fat our wallets.

“In practice each therefore is committed to a ‘preference for the poor’ while however also eschewing the Marxist-inspired collectivism that was until recently de rigueur for progressives. The human rights people are as scathing about the failures of modernism and the aimless vacuities of post-modernism as is any well-educated bishop. “It is not surprising that the interventions of the head of Amnesty International, Irene Khan – on Guantanamo; on war; on poverty – often read like secular encyclicals, just as Pope Benedict’s reflections on the outreach of love in his first such letter Deus Caritas Est could be reconfigured without too much difficulty into a human rights manifesto.”

Ms Lucy Fallon-Byrne, Director of the National Centre for Partnership and Performance (NCPP) presented to the conference on the theme: ‘Who is my neighbour at work – The power of partnership and trust’ and Ms Fallon-Byrne looked at how the key messages from Deus Caritas Est relate to the values and practices we are promoting in our work to build ‘workplaces of the future’ in Ireland.

Such values include trust, respect, openness, equality, diversity, inclusiveness and of course partnership, and are key components of the National Workplace Strategy which is the Government’s blueprint to create high-quality, high-performing workplaces across Ireland, and the NCPP is responsible for overseeing its implementation.

The first speaker in the afternoon session was Bishop Donal Murray, the Bishop of Limerick, who said: “What is suggested by the parable of the Good Samaritan is not that we have to know everybody and always be offering to help, or always be curious and intrusive about their concerns and hopes. It suggests, rather, that being a neighbour involves being ready to be shocked out of our mutual anonymity when confronted with another person’s need.

“The parable of the Good Samaritan has another dimension. The Church, the community of Christ, seeks to influence the attitudes and policies of society not only by rational argument and the purification of reason, but also by seeking to ‘reawaken spiritual energy’ and by contributing ‘to the reawakening of those moral forces without which just structures are neither established nor prove effective in the long run (Deus Caritus Est).’”

Mr John Monaghan, National Vice President of the Society of St Vincent de Paul said: “We still have 18% of the population, or nearly 800,000 people living in Relative Poverty, this means struggling on an income of less than about €210 per week and praying that no financial emergency occurs. Of this 800,000 nearly 300,000 are living in Consistent Poverty and that means not only living on less than €210 per week but also being deprived of basic necessities such as food, heat and clothing.

“So the SVP still has a job to do, not just by providing on-going friendship and support and encouragement to those we assist but also in questioning why so many people in such a wealthy country still need to call on us for assistance. In other words we must continue to advocate for social justice. The daily challenge for each member of the SVP in living out their Vincentian vocation, is to keep alive the powerful liberating message of the love of God contained Gospels and the inspiration of St Vincent de Paul and Frederic Ozanam so as to give life to the comment that Charity and Justice go hand in hand.”

Dr Fergus O’Ferrall, Director of the Adelaide Hospital Society, addressed the conference on the subject ‘Deus Caritas Est and Active Citzenship’. Dr O’Ferrall said: “I particularly welcome Pope Benedict’s reassertion of Pope John Paul II’s statement that the Catholic Church and the charitable agencies of other Christian churches should be ready to cooperate.

“As a Methodist I am reminded of John Wesley’s famous sermon on the ‘Catholic Spirit’ where he spoke of that love that is due to all humankind – the royal law ‘You shall love your neighbour as yourself.’”

Dr O’Ferrall concluded: “We need an agreed Christian vision which will provide a set of consistent and complementary principles, values and goals and which would help us to subject every public policy to be judged by the effect it has on human dignity and the common good.”

Notes for Editors

The ICJSA conference “Who is my neighbour?” was held in the Croke Park Conference Centre, Dublin. Keynote speakers and themes:

  • Professor Conor Gearty, Professor of Human Rights Law, London School of Economics – Human rights: faith for a secular age?
  • Ms Lucy Fallon-Byrne, Director of the National Centre for Partnership and Performance – Who is my neighbour at work?
  • Bishop Donal Murray, Bishop of Limerick – Towards a real discovery of the other

As part of the afternoon session of the Conference a panel discussion was chaired by Councillor Rotimi Adebari, Mayor of Portlaoise, with contributions from: Professor John Monaghan of the St Vincent de Paul; Dr Fergus O’Ferrall of The Wheel; Dr Duncan Morrow of the Community Relations Council, Northern Ireland; and Sr Joan Roddy of the Irish Bishops’ Refugee and Migrant Project.

The role of the Irish Commission for Justice and Social Affairs is to support the Irish Catholic Bishops’ Conference in promoting the social teaching of the Church and to advise on issues of social concern, both nationally and internationally. Its mission is: To promote the social dimension of the Gospel with a view to building a civilisation of love.

The ICJSA is based in the Columba Centre, Maynooth, Co Kildare. It is chaired by Bishop Raymond Field, Auxiliary Bishop of the Archdiocese of Dublin, Executive Secretary is Fr Timothy Bartlett and its Research Coordinator is Ms Nicola Rooney.


Further information:
Martin Long, Director of Communications (086 172 7678)
Brenda Drumm, Communications Officer (087 233 7797)